Home » Air » Air Force set to arm AC-130W with Hellfire missiles

Air Force set to arm AC-130W with Hellfire missiles

by Mike Hoffman on March 20, 2013

Air Force Special Operations Command hopes to mount the Hellfire missile to the AC-130W in the next ten months, a top acquisition official said Wednesday.

Air Force Col. Michael Schmidt, the program executive officer for U.S. Special Operations Command’s Fixed-Wing, explained that once the funding was line up, it wouldn’t take long to integrate the “proven weapons system” onto the AC-130W. While sequestration and the continuing resolution budget cuts have made that more of a challenge, Schmidt remained confident that the Pentagon would fund the integration.

AFSOC has already integrated the Hellfire missile on to the MC-130W Dragon Spear. Schmidt said the Air Force would mount F-15 racks onto the hard points of the AC-130W and then load the Hellfire missiles onto the aircraft.

The AC-130W is widely known for the 30mm modified MK-44 cannon, but less so for the GBU-44/B Viper Strike laser guided missile. Adding the Hellfire missile will maintain the recent theme seen in AFSOC acquisition of providing a variety of munition options on aircraft to commanders.

Schmidt said that theme is supported by AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel.


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{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

USS ENTERPRISE March 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm

AC-130 with missiles. This should be good. The plane itself is armed to the teeth. Just adding missiles, and wow. My main concern, though, it what will be the eventual replacement of this plane? A400M converted to a gunship is an option I doubt. It has taken to long for the cargo version to come out.


octopusmagnificens March 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm

No replacement in the foreseeable future. Its life will be extended for decades.


USS ENTERPRISE March 20, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Very true. The USAF will probably use that tactic so long as the F-35 is being purchased. In moments where I feel like an eight year old, I think that C-5 bristling with weaponry would be great. Though, I suspect, I doubt it will happen. Maybe a C-17?


Guy March 20, 2013 at 9:09 pm
USS ENTERPRISE March 20, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Hey, I was being sarcastic.

Vaporhead March 21, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Have you looked at the price of a F35? A C17 would look like chump change.

Jake the Snake March 27, 2013 at 10:33 pm

C-130J will eventually take its place. In the works as we speak, I believe. MC-130J's are just starting to roll off the line, AC-130J's won;t be far behind.


David March 21, 2013 at 9:25 am

Don't forget, this is the new "W" model. It's a new airframe, new systems…but not armed to the teeth like the H or U models. From the factsheet available over on af.mil: "Armament: Precision Strike Package (PSP) – 30mm modified MK-44 cannon; SOPGM (Viper Strike/Griffin)"


Ronaldo March 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm

If it is a new airframe why is the J model not shown ? This is an old H model in the photo.


sailor12 March 22, 2013 at 7:30 am

An C-130J is doing the job.


PMM March 25, 2013 at 9:41 pm

AC-5 anyone? Sure it would be an expensive plane to put in harms way, but the threat deterrrent would be on par with an aircraft carrier. That plane would scare the pants off anyone.


USS ENTERPRISE March 25, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I said that earlier in the comments. An AC-5 sounds good, but you start running into problems. A jet plane isn't the best aerial gunship; its to fast, can't hold a tight turn that well, its noisy. So yeah, in theory, an AC-5 could hold a LOT of 120MM and missiles and lasers and rails guns (being sarcastic on the last two, don't jump on me) it won't end up working. As for comparing a C-5 to a carrier, they simply aren't in the same class. A carrier has CAP fighters, destroyers, and CIWS to keep missiles away. Unless you want to try another B-17, you don't put machine guns and missile launchers all over the place. A C-5 was designed to transport cargo. A Nimitz Class carrier has FAR more duties than that: launch/recover fighters, operate as a deterrent, etc. So yeah, I do kinda like a AC-5, it just wouldn't work out, sadly. As for scaring people, all you need is an Apache, along with some rockets, missiles, and machine guns ;).


octopusmagnificens March 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm

For a second I thought that the missiles would be launched sideways from the left side.


ron March 20, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Why stop there, Mavricks would be even cooler.KABOOM, I would be scared to be a bad guy


Thunder350 March 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Who, or what, defines who is "bad" and who is "good"?


USS ENTERPRISE March 20, 2013 at 9:04 pm

The Fire Control officer. And AWACS. And ground troops. And ultimately, the bullet/missile/shell fired.


grin March 20, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Who is trying to kill you is bad, they do not care about your ideals or sympathies, in that moment you do not have time to reason with them, or convert their way of thinking. It is most efficient, both in resources, manpower, time, and economics to terminate enemy life. Welcome to reality, we just switched from crushing skulls with rocks, to metal, to explosives and bullets. You cant fix what is part of humanity, and is not a problem.


Thunder350 March 23, 2013 at 12:21 am

Your only seeing one small part of it that isn't the issue, the much bigger part is when we drop bombs and assassinate American citizens outside both domestic and international law (has already happened) because the president ordered it, Is it automatically ok because they obviously were "bad"?

Miles well burn the Constitution then.

Thunder350 March 23, 2013 at 12:17 am

You and everyone else that down voted my comment missed the point completely. Everything you listed are just tools for someone much higher up the chain, our government throws us into wars and our media constantly ramps up for others. But again, who or what is defining who these "bad" guys are, and why?


USS ENTERPRISE March 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Firstly, I didn't down vote you comment. Wasn't me, so get that idea out of the way. Bad guy would be a person who is associated with groups that have committed acts of violence against the people, whether physically or mentally.

blight_ March 23, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Obama. Dun dun dun!


Lance March 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I agree with Ron Mavericks and GBU-22s be much better for a fixed wing platform.


Chuck March 20, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Guys, Maverick is 8 feet long with a 125 lb warhead. That's kind of overkill for the kinds of targets that the AC-130 deals with. Dangerous overkill, considering it's role is predominately CAS.


Norseman4 March 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

the AGM-65 (Maverick) is a CAS weapon system, at least that's one of it's roles. Since the plan, as detailed above, would be to mount F15 weapon racks on the W's hard-points, that opens what weapons can be mounted in the future … including the 65.


Chuck March 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Maverick is predominately an anti-armor weapon. You really don't want to be firing it near friendlies.


Norseman4 March 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

According the the Air Forces info page about the missile lists CAS as it's first designed role. Not saying it would be ideal weapon on the AC-130W, just saying it could be mounted on the F15 racks attached to the hardpoints, and that, yes it does indeed have a CAS role

Mooverick March 22, 2013 at 10:29 am

Don't forget the sheer amount of drag and weight these would cause on the airframe significantly affecting flight performance. The Maverick was made to defeat tanks and hardened targets. Rarely what the insurgents are muckying with. Let's compare…

500-700 lbs
125-300lbs warhead
14 mile range

100 lbs
20 lbs warhead
5 mile range

APKWS pods seem more a useful loadout then Mavericks.


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Paul March 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Nice to see the USAF making an old flat bed truck into a battlefield airborne fire base. I know the troops appreciate the volume of fire that the type I 1st saw provides. Now with fire-&-forget missiles whose warheads can be tailored for the target in actual on-board time….yahoo. Now, when is the Nav going to turn the C2 Greyhound into an @ sea anti-shipping gun ship? Arm such a variant with 30mm Aveneger Gatling + Harpoons & you have over the horizon task force protection from insurgent vessels @ wave top altitudes.


USS ENTERPRISE March 20, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Well, that truth is that that role is taken by the helicopters on board. Also, I doubt that you can take a Greyhound, outfit it with all your supposed weapons, and keep its fold-ablity. Navy aircraft have serious size restrictions, so I don't know if a Greyhound would be up to some serious weapons. So for the role you are talking about, just call in an Arleigh-Burke or a Helicopter. Job done.


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Hunter76 March 20, 2013 at 8:11 pm

The AC-130, like the A-10, has enjoyed the benign neglect of the AF. The AF's first love is air superiority at long ranges. Which is understandable because otherwise, how could you conduct other air missions? So AF satisfied the calls from soldiers for better CAS– an area they always understood as 2nd rank– with cheap solid frames, limited budgets, and scant attention. The success of the concepts proves the concepts themselves as well as the hard work of many people.


USS ENTERPRISE March 20, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Yeah, the 130 and 10 have taken the budget kinda hard. But at least they will be around. And with this new upgrade, I think we can see more attention to the CAS aircraft.


IKnowIT March 21, 2013 at 5:10 am

Guys (***USS Enterprise***) please read this if you don't know what a troll is

Best bet for trolls is instant and total ignore


USS ENTERPRISE March 21, 2013 at 10:42 am

Oh I am sorry. If you have problems with me posting, then ignore. "IKnowIT" sounds like a troll on its own if you ask me.


platypusfriend March 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Ah… Nothing better than a good call-out and a response! ;)


USS ENTERPRISE March 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Uh, sure. Yeah. Right.


IKnowIT March 23, 2013 at 2:34 pm

No guys, I was telling USS to ignore Palestine.. I have issue with USS other than he got baited..

Titandeuce March 21, 2013 at 9:09 am

"Air Force Col. Michael Schmidt, the program executive officer for U.S. Special Operations Command’s Fixed-Wing, explained that once the funding was line up, it wouldn’t take long to integrate the “proven weapons system” onto the AC-130W"

I'm sure the acquistion community can find a way to prove him wrong.


ohwilleke March 21, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Why not put missiles the C-27J instead? Its similar in performance, you don't need a twenty ton cargo capacity for this mission, its cheaper, it has a thinner logistics support line, and it isn't constrained by a 1950s era design that has to be worked around as modifications are made.

I suppose the cynical answer is that then the Army would want to own them for itself and the Air Force can't have that.


Armchair March 23, 2013 at 8:38 am

I don't think the C-27J is as cost efficient.


UAVGeek March 25, 2013 at 11:14 am

The reason why the AF canned the C-27 is that they found it's operating costs per flight hour weren't that different from the bigger C-130. If they cost close to the same to run might as well use the bigger and more flexible C-130.


Dfens March 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I saw a picture of a C-27 sized version of the C-130J. It used the outboard wing panels (the wing comes in 3 pieces, 2 outboard sections, each with an engine and hard point and a center section), along with the existing engines, props, and nacelles. I'll post the picture if I can find it.


Dfens March 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm
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riceball March 25, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Per the Key West Agreement (which came about when the Air Force was split off from the Army) the Army is not allowed to own and operate armed fixed wing aircraft. and an AC-27 would qualify as armed fixed wing aircraft. I don't know what the legal ramifications of violating the Key West Agreement would be but considering that they've held since they were first signed in 1948 and later modified in 1954 I'd say that the consequences for violating it would be pretty serious.


ohwilleke March 25, 2013 at 7:27 pm

The Key West Agreement is an intraservice political document, not something with the force of law that effectively services as a procurement guideline with the force of a federal regulation telling the services how to play fair. It could be modified by any President at will and has been tweaked on a case by case basis now and then.

Of course, the whole point of my comment insofar as it applies to Air Force v. Army jurisdiction is to suggest that the Key West Agreement has reached a point where it does more harm than good.


UAVGeek March 26, 2013 at 12:07 pm

The problem with the JCA program was that the Army wanted an "organic" capability, that is each unit wanted to own it's airlift to be used when it wanted. The problem is that when the planes aren't being called for they sit around doing not much else. It also causes tremendous duplication of effort in in-theater assets, One air command is the way history has shown us how it needs to be done.


ohwilleke March 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Fair enough. But, the problem with the status quo is that the Air Force does not devote R&D, procurement, or operational resources to the mission of providing close air support and intratheater transport to Army units. So, the Army invests in helicopters it can control when fixed wing aircraft would perform the mission better, simply to wrest control from the unresponsive Air Force and to have its needs addressed.

tiger March 27, 2013 at 8:49 am

Political or not; it is still in place. Notice The Army lacks armed drones? The USAF gets to fly the Reaper.


Brandon March 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm

If they put some GBU-31's on that beast i would be a happy camper.


USS ENTERPRISE March 26, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Lightly loaded is key. If you want to "lightly load" a C-5 with weapons, you are missing the point. If "lightly loaded" is the same as loading up a C-130 to the max, than why waste money on a C-5? A C-5 is a great cargo plane. But frankly, its kinda old. While in theory a C-5 with a a full load of weapons would terrorize any opposers, you have to put the C-5 into practice. That simply isn't easy. A C-5 can take off quickly. Great. But what does that mean for a gunship? You need loiter time, tight radius turns, and good payload. A C-5 is a cargo plane, and yes, a gunship version wouldn't be shabby, but to hold the purpose of a CAS gunship, it won't be that good. Its like saying you are going to take the bomb bays of a B-52, take out the rotary launchers, and put in 120MM guns. In theory, it could pack a punch. But its size and vulnerability would compromise it.


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gunluvr September 28, 2013 at 1:07 am

I love missiles, bombs have a tendency of knocking you on your ass or worse if you're too close when they go off or when you're expecting a 500 pounder and they drop a couple 2000 pounders, like night and day.


Roaddawg November 28, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Wonder how a V-22 Osprey would serve as an attack gun platform? 25mm Bushmaster, M-134 minigun and several Viper Strike or Griffin missiles might just be bad ass.


Ronaldo March 21, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Thanks for asking. Yes, I have and the F-35 still looks good.


blight_ March 21, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I wonder if it's a question of how quickly you can put HE on target.

You know, for when you need it asap.

I think Viper Strikes might be perfect for taking out houses that can't move, but with cars, especially those that might be driving at high speed into a checkpoint…


USS ENTERPRISE March 21, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Ehm. I think that adding glide bombs, you are slightly straying into the roles of the Strike Eagle, the Hog, and maybe even the Lancer. Rather, like I said, develop and attach a rail gun.


drone March 22, 2013 at 5:12 am

It seems to have no problem with moving targets, according to the manufacturer during testing "Viper Strikes successfully hit eight vehicles travelling at extremely high speeds in varying realistic scenarios".

As to time to target, interesting to note that the Hellfire isn't *that* fast, with a maxiumum speed quoted as being mach 1.3. I was unable to find data for the Viper Strike but something like the Fritz-X from WW2 had a terminal velocity of around mach 0.85, not that far off.

I don't think a UCAV is the best way to guard your checkpoints, soldiers guarding them have killed enough civillians by mistake in such situations and they have a direct view of the target, much better that that of a UCAV operator.


drone March 22, 2013 at 5:31 am

Rail guns are heavy, require enormous amounts of power (even more weight) and generate massive amounts of recoil which needs to be absorbed (much, much more weight).

A glide bomb is an exercise in simplicty, why lug such a complex and heavy launcher around when gravity is on your side?


USS ENTERPRISE March 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Yeah, that is true. But if you put in the same amount of money and dedication that was put into the the F-35, you might be able to get all those problems fixed. But, my impractical dreams aside, I doubt that rail guns will make an appearance in the USAF until the F-22 and F-35 are replaced.


drone March 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Another issue I didn't mention was cooling, railguns generate tremendous amounts of heat – as they float on massive boadies of water, this is no issue for shipboard guns, but for aircraft it would be a tad more complex to deal with, again meaning more weight.

A C-130 can theoretically carry a staggering total of 1,000 GBU-44s. Let's be generous and say 100 of them are enough for one mission, that leaves 40,000 lbs to spare which can be more fuel and "shift crew" to allow for a much longer loiter time.


blight_ March 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm

It raises the logistical question of how you intend to cool the gun barrels and the firing mechanism. A water jacket that exchanges water and runs it through an intercooler at the bottom of the hull? And if such a mechanism is damaged, gun rate of fire drops to what can be safely aircooled? Or eschew water for the equivalent of an freon/R32 heat exchanger? Or a more expensive but power-hungry Peltier system?

If you're thinking of pulling up salt water into a ship and putting it near the railguns as a way of directly cooling the guns using seawater, it sounds like a severe corrosion hazard.


drone March 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Further to this, an AC-130 carries less than a hundred 105mm rounds… so removing the weight of the gun, recoil system, crew and shells with glide bombs seems to be a no-brainer…


drone March 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Ships have been using seawater to stop their engines overheating for decades, one would think the corrosion problems have been overcome. The logisitcal hurdles of having a practical naval railgun operational go beyond simply keeping the whole thing burning up.


USS ENTERPRISE March 22, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Alright fine then, no rail gun. So sad :(. But no one said anything about lasers!


bbmg March 23, 2013 at 5:31 am

sorry to keep raining on your parade but powerful lasers are also frightfully heavy… still, some people are clearly seriously contemplating the idea:

The article makes a good point, laser beams cannot be shot down by countermeasures – does this mean tanks will now be covered with mirrors?


USS ENTERPRISE March 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Well, if a laser is powerful enough, a mirror won't do jack. The laser will just cut through the mirror. Yeah, the inspiration behind adding a laser here is from that airborne laser firing 747. A laser would be heavy, but once again, take out the 105mm or the 120mm on the AC-130, you could MAYBE fit a laser system. But once again, this probably won't happen for a while. Huh. Looks like we are stuck with projectiles. So sad.


Dfens March 25, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Yeah, the Lockheed Aero division failed badly on that one, so now they're using a part of the company that does mainly helicopter stuff to set up the targeting hardware and guns. I guess once you've learned how well stupidity pays on the F-22 and F-35 programs, it's hard to go back to doing things the right way.


USS ENTERPRISE March 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I am guessing that your issue that I keep responding to the various "Something Palestine" on this site. Also, you are signaling another issue with me. May I know what?


USS ENTERPRISE March 25, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Re-reading your post, I am going to take confidence and say that there was a "no" in between "have" and "issue".


Restore Palestine March 26, 2013 at 3:34 pm

What does "take confidence" mean?

There is no "no" between "have" and "issue"

Stop hallucinating.


ajphillips March 26, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Thanks to a Marine Full Byrd col. He flew a c-47 to majors field, midway of viet nam war, our company(E-systems) out fitted with assistance from Rockwell with guns mounted, we also installed large guns on new C-130s, made light ships for C130. A few years later we saw a film of the first test of C130 gunship, they were laying a string of bullets every 1 inch for several yards. This happened in Gulf of Mexico. By the way I met the incoming C-47, the col. ask me if I could kick out some windows on his airplane????????


CptB March 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

And what's left of my aging ass owes every day since 12/2/1970 to that old gooney bird. FAC< TAC<Napalm. Todays' Air Force needs to get relevant with more CAS>


blight_ March 26, 2013 at 8:16 pm
USS ENTERPRISE March 26, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Okay. In the real world, there are such things as typos.


USS ENTERPRISE March 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Oh, and let me ask you, how does this conversation concern you?


USS ENTERPRISE March 27, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Well yes, but I would rather have sensible people like possibly you commenting on things that have nothing to do with you then the Palestine brothers. I was simply responding to a misunderstanding. He decided to be his usual annoying self.


platypusfriend March 30, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I have to agree that a mirror would not stop a laser. Maybe one shot, but not 2, 3 or 4.


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