Editor’s note: Erik Meisner served in Attack Company, 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment as a rifle team leader with deployments to the Middle East, Central America and Asia. He is also a licensed pilot.
When I was a member of 2/75 Ranger, we trained with several forms of close air support. A-10’s, AH-64 Apache’s and MH-60 DAP’s. But one particular airframe rained supreme. The AC-130 Spectre Gunship or Ranger God in the sky. Built upon the reliable C-130 aircraft, this gunship has a wide variety of weapon systems and sensors. Since its inception during the Vietnam war, the AC-130 has undergone several weapon systems upgrades as the military’s needs have changed over time. However, most variants have a port side mounted 105mm howitzer alongside 20mm, 30mm and or 40mm cannons.
Future upgrades slated for the AC-130 are a “directed energy weapon”. Similar to the Advanced Tactical Laser, this weapon might produce as much as a 200 kW beam that could defensively destroy anti-aircraft missiles, as well as engage communications towers, boats, cars, and aircraft. Additionally, the USAF is potentially acquiring a glide bomb that can be launched from the common launch tubes. This enables the platform to engage cars traveling 70 MPH while the aircraft maintains a safe altitude of 10,000′.
2018 marked the aircraft’s 50th year providing close air support for ground troops. Although the AC-130 has been around for awhile, its future is somewhat uncertain. A very capable aircraft in the current theater of operations in the middle east, its high profile and slow airspeed can render it vulnerable. Those shortcomings won’t work in future non-permissive environments. The USAF is looking to a more expendable and stealthy unmanned platform to replace the AC-130 further down the road.
As you can see in the video below, the AC-130 possesses an array of sensors and weapons to root out and destroy the enemy. You can hear the pilot requesting different direct and air burst munitions to most effectively kill the enemy. As a former Army Ranger, I can tell you first hand that hearing the drone of those four turbo prop engines and seeing an IR strobe through NVG’s loitering above was always a welcome sight. Like the AC-130 crews say, “You can run…but you’ll only die tired.”