At the start of the Vietnam War, the US Air Force deployed a new concept of combat aircraft, the Gunship, initially a World War II C-47 Dakota transport loaded with port machine guns and intended to support the forces infantry on the ground engaged in tough combat against the Vietcong adversary. This is how the AC-47 Spooky was born, which became one of the main weapons of the Air Commando Squadron. But it quickly became clear that the C-47 was too vulnerable for this mission as the intensity of the fighting increased, with no fewer than 19 aircraft destroyed, including 12 by enemy fire, out of the 41 aircraft engaged in Vietnam between 1064 and 1968. The US Air Force then entrusted Lockheed Martin, for the airframe, and Boeing for the weapon system, with the mission of converting the new C-130 Hercules for this mission. The first AC-130 Gunship II took off in 1966, and it joined the US Air Force in Vietnam in September 1967, which says a lot about the engineering capabilities of the time, even without computer-aided design. nor digital twins. The new aircraft quickly began their first missions over Laos and Cambodia, in particular to neutralize the famous "Oh-Chi-Minh" runway which made it possible to supply the Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam with food and equipment.
The AC-130 was used extensively during the end of the Vietnam War, and 6 aircraft were shot down by Viet Minh anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles. One of them was notably lost on the sidelines of the "Bat 21" mission made famous by the eponymous film, aimed at recovering the navigator Gene Hambelton, ejected and sole survivor of an EB-66 hit by an SA-2 missile North Vietnamese in March 1972. However, the AC-130 continued to evolve until the AC-130H Specter version, which carried 2 20 mm Gatling cannons, a 40 mm Bofors L60 cannon, and a 40 mm howitzer. 105 mm M102, coupled with ultra-modern low light intensity electro-optical systems for the time, giving the device firepower worthy of the legend it would form, the device and these descendant having participated in the majority of American military engagements since that date. The latest version of this aircraft, which entered service in 2018 and designated AC-130J Ghostider, carries a 30 mm GAU-13/A automatic cannon (the one which equips in particular the Swedish, Finnish and Swiss CV90 armored vehicles), an M102 howitzer of 105mm, and a multiple ammunition launcher armed with 10 AGM-176 Griffin missiles or GBU-44/B Viper Strike light guided bombs, as well as AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and GBU-39 or GBU-39 glide guided bombs. GBU-53 hardpoints under the wings, giving the aircraft unparalleled precision firepower.
However, the US Air Force did not intend to stop there. Faced with the rapid rise in power of ground-air systems, but also of drones and robotic armored vehicles, it needed to equip its Ghostrider with a weapon system that was powerful, very precise, and versatile against aerial targets as well. and terrestrial, and compatible with the available space and the configuration of the device. This is why in 2019 it entrusted Lockheed-Martin with the mission of designing a high-energy laser system intended to take place on board the device , perhaps in place of the 105 howitzer. mm. On October 6, 2021, Lockheed announced that its Airborne High Energy Laser was now ready , and had been transferred to the US Air Force to be tested, evaluated with the other equipment arming the device, then integrated on board a AC-130J Ghostrider.
The rest of this article is reserved for subscribers -
Classic subscriptions give access to all Flash articles, Analyzes and Syntheses, without advertising , from €1.99.
Premium subscriptions also provide access to articles over two years old in the archive, as well as advanced research tools , and to publish two press releases or job offers per month for free in the Partners section ( + Push social networks / application).