US Air Force Special Operations Command has received its 31st and final AC-130J Ghostrider, completing the command’s transition from the legacy AC-130W, AC-130U and AC-130H fleets.
Following a commemoration ceremony at the Lockheed Martin Gunship Modification Facility in Crestview on November 2, the final AC-130J was delivered to the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.
During the AC-130J Ghostrider dedication and delivery ceremony, Lt. Col. Joe Allen, Gunship Program manager and narrator for the event, briefly discussed the history of nose art and how it became a common way of depicting the name of an airplane. He also explained how pilots would stencil names or call signs on their aircraft, providing a sense of connection and further a feeling of pride for themselves and the crew that kept the airplane flying.
“Aircraft #31 is no different [than previous World War II aircraft] and is being named in honor of Mr. Stan ‘Sluggo’ Siefke who was instrumental in the developments of the precision strike package prior to cutting first metal on the MC-130W,” said Allen. “Sluggo’s impacts on Whiskey and Ghostrider have been nothing short of outstanding and we are honored to have him in attendance today.”
The AC-130J is the fifth generation gunship replacing the fleet of AC-130U Spooky and AC-130W Stinger II gunships. AC-130 gunships have an extensive combat history dating back to Vietnam where gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving, close air support missions.
USSOCOM is developing AC-130J through the integration of modular components onto existing MC-130J aircraft. The modular components include a dual-console mission operator pallet (MOP) in the cargo bay that controls all subsystems with remote displays and control panels on the flight deck; internal, pallet-mounted 30 mm side-firing chain gun and 105 mm cannon; wing-mounted GBU-39/B GPS-guided small diameter bombs and AGM-176 Griffin laser-guided missiles. The command also plans to eventually equip the Ghostriders with directed energy weapon systems or lasers, as they are more commonly known.
Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, AFSOC commander, represented the command at the ceremony and spoke about his experience with acquiring and receiving the AC-130J.
Slife recalled that it had been only a few years back when then Col. Slife, working at the Pentagon for the Office of Secretary of Defense, began the messaging and formative language that initiated the program that he’s seeing come full circle.
“In the fall of 2009, the secretary of defense decided to recapitalize [the AC-130] with C-130Js to build the platforms we see behind us today,” Slife said.
He also spoke about seeing the first J model go into combat in the summer of 2019 while serving as the AFSOC commander.
“The airplane and its predecessors have exceeded all our expectations and kept more Americans alive than any other airplane on the battlefield,” Slife said.
“The future is going to be different than what we have experienced for the last 20 years, but one thing I’m certain of is this airplane will be relevant to whatever the future operating environment brings, so thank you all for delivering such a magnificent capability to today’s warfighters,” he said.
Capt. Katie Tiedemann, 73rd Special Operations Squadron weapons systems officer, shared operational vignettes of the AC-130J during the event. She specifically shared her own experience deployed in Afghanistan when she supported Operation Allies Refuge.
“Over two weeks, my own crew, and two others, continued to employ our aircraft for countless hours, reopening the [Kabul] airport and evacuating 123,000 refugees,” Tiedemann said. “Much of the rest of the story you have seen and heard, but our two crews who flew during the evacuation will be recognized this fall with the MacKay trophy for accomplishing the most meritorious flight of the year.”
Following Capt. Tiedemann’s presentation, William Innes, deputy director for acquisition, United States Special Operations Command, spoke about USSOCOM’s part in navigating the acquisitions process to get the weapons systems from industry to the warfighter.
“When we can see firsthand that it [the acquisition process] works, it delivers the best weapons system the nation can get, it is truly inspirational,” he said.
Vic Torla, Lockheed Martin vice president of Special Operations Forces Global Logistics Support Services, expressed his gratitude for the partnership between Lockheed Martin and the Air Force.
“A great example of a government and industry partnership to stand up this facility,” Torla said. “A ten-year journey to deliver what is now 30 combat capable aircraft to Special Operations Command.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Slife, along with the aircrew, stepped onto the new AC-130J and took off for Cannon AFB, where the final AC-130J will become part of the 27th Special Operations Wing.
AFSOC received its final Ghostrider in the same week as the US Marine Corps received its final AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter, completing the H-1 program of record.