A few years ago I helped break the story that Air Force Special Operations Command wanted to turn twin-engine, C-27J cargo planes into a “gunship lite” to bolster the command’s fleet of aging AC-130 gunships. AFSOC was all about the idea for a while until budgeteers nixed the gunship lite proposal in FY 2010 and the command opted to recapitalize its AC-130 fleet with new C-130Js.
Imagine my surprise last week when I came across a “light gunship” display at ATK’s booth at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference here in Washington. The aircraft appears to be a CASA CN-295 — instead of a C-27J — and it’s shown bristling with missiles, rockets and a 30mm cannon.
While no one from ATK was available to tell me more about the airplane, a marketing sheet I took from the display describes the plane as a “robust day/night ISR solution now available with precision strike/close air support capabilities.” From the brochure, I deduced that ATK is marketing this as an equipment package that can turn any medium-size transport into a gunship — the CN-295 is simply being used to show off the concept.
According to the fact sheet, the proposed gunship would be equipped with:
- an electro-optical/infrared sensors and a laser target designator
- fuselage-mounted weapons pylons capable of carrying both AGM-114M/K Hellfire missiles and 70mm rockets
- a side firing M230LF 30mm cannon
- a sythetic aperture radar
- cockpit and passenger armor
- datalinks that can transmit full motion video taken by the plane’s sensors
- beyond line of sight communications gear
It may be that ATK smells a global opportunity to provide light gunships to air forces around the globe who can’t afford to buy dedicated aircraft for the mission. Remember, while AFSOC didn’t move ahead with the AC-27J concept, AFSOC and the Marine Corps have both installed roll-on light gunship kits on some of their MC-130W and KC-130 tankers/cargo haulers. These modified tankers — called Dragon Spears and Harvest Hawks, respectively — have proven to be very useful.
Here’s a model of the light gunship that was on display at ATK’s booth below the giant picture shown above: