AFSOC Wants to Research Adding Laser Weapons to AC-130

AC-130Air Force Special Operations Command’s top officer said he wanted to explore the possibility of adding a laser or directed energy weapon to the AC-130J Ghostrider.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, head of AFSOC, told a crowd at NDIA’s SO/LIC conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday that he thought the technology was mature enough to install a laser weapon onto the AC-130J gunship.

The Air Force has already decided it will mount a 105mm cannon onto the newest variant of the gunship after the Air Force chose to limit the W-model to smart bombs and the 30mm cannon. Heithold explained that the 105mm cannon was needed because it was more accurate and cheaper than firing the Small Diameter Bombs.

The Pentagon has continued to expand its research into direct energy weapons, especially the Navy. Top Navy officials have remain committed to incorporating lasers onto Navy warships.

The Air Force had invested in airborne lasers before former Defense Secretary Robert Gates killed the program. The Air Force had considered a program that would use lasers to protect the U.S. from ballistic missiles.

This is the first time an Air Force official has discussed adding a laser weapon to the AC-130.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • Joshua

    Be a good choice if it is setup for self defense against manpads. Open up a lot of turf to use the gunships on if manpads are no longer a threat

    • NMI

      But my manpads are extra absorbent!

      Sorry, couldn’t help it.

  • whareagle

    Interesting that the 105 was deemed more accurate and cheaper. I wonder if they’ll be firing laser-guided shells or GPS shells in that diameter – I don’t see why not… But the development of solid state lasers for just about any anti-missile purpose, from ICBM to mortar, has got to be one of the success stories of the first part of the century. I know the 747 was ungodly expensive, but we keep downsizing the space and upsizing the capacity and range, and honestly, it’s got to scare the bejeebers out of our adversaries, wouldn’t you think?

    • t1oracle

      Isn’t it interesting how the 105 is more accurate and cheaper yet they think it’s ok to replace GAU8 toting A10 with an F35 for CAS? I guess we should at least be happy that the Air Force isn’t completely neglecting the needs of ground forces.

  • Blake

    It may not be sharks with laser beams … But its the next best thing

    • Dfens

      It’s a C-130 so it looks more like a sea bass.

    • pcleech

      A laser-equipped AC-130 with a sharks mouth painted on the nose would be pretty close.

      • Dfens

        Close to looking like a rabid dolphin maybe.

        • pcleech

          Maybe so but dolphins can kill sharks. So dolphins with lasers might be scarier than sharks with lasers.

    • Rod

      The American people’s one simple request – Sharks with frickin laser beams attached to their heads. Throw us a bone here.

  • blight_

    Ventral turrets to zap targets on both sides of the aircraft without requiring a pylon turn.

    Curious as to how powerful of a laser could be fitted in the cargo bay of a conventional C-130. Open cargo bay door, steer C-130 appropriately with a rear view camera and fire for effect.

    • Sean

      I would day probably around the 500 KW-1MW range at this point. Several years ago they had 100KW solid state lasers that could fit on an Abrams IIRC

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    It doesn’t sound like the General has MANPADS defense in mind, though a laser capable of fire on ground positions certainly would have the mega-wattage (?) to fry a missile sensor. And the article refers to a laser “or directed energy weapon,” which leads me to wonder if an EMP weapon isn’t also within the range of possibilities he’s considering.

  • isaac

    Iol just let me know when I can go get my laser rifle and exoskeleton.

  • Auyong Ah Meng

    How about similar laser system putting on a B-52?

  • Stan

    Optimistically, a 100 kw solid state laser working at 20% efficiency would require 500 kw of power not counting the cooling setup. It could be useful for self-defense and taking out light vehicles but for anti-personnel I would think high explosive rounds would be better, especially if radar fused. Maybe the fear factor would work in its favor but lasers are a bit sketchy in the Geneva convention sense, I think.

    I am sure a 105 mm cannon would be cheaper than an SDB but you couldn’t get the same suppression quickly with a single cannon as with several of those bombs, I would imagine. Or a 30mm gatling.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “….but lasers are a bit sketchy in the Geneva convention sense, I think”.

      That depends on context. The applicable document is the “Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV to the 1980 Convention), 13 October 1995” (

      This states that “It is prohibited to employ laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices.”

      As such, things like laser range finders (and future high-powered combat lasers) are not prohibited, since causing permanent blindness is not one of their design functions, even if they are incidentally able to do so.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

      • Rif221

        Thanks for the info. So it’s okay to neutralize a combatant by killing him with a laser, but it’s not okay to neutralize a combatant by trying to blind him with a laser? Being blind isn’t great, but it’s much better than dead. You gotta love international law.

    • “I am sure a 105 mm cannon would be cheaper than an SDB but you couldn’t get the same suppression quickly with a single cannon as with several of those bombs,”

      Disagree, while you may be able to suppress a larger area with SDB’s you can’t do it for long. You run out of bombs and when it comes to suppressing you want to hold the enemy so you can withdraw or maneuver so duration is key. Then there’s the question of how close you can put the round to friendly troops. You can get closer with the 105mm meaning the enemy can’t necessarily use proximity to protect himself from fires.

      There are also the points mentioned in this article

    • Phil C

      Disagree on getting a quicker suppression with SDB vs the 105. Just ask yourself, which has the higher initial velocity, the 400+ meters/second 105, or the air dropped 9 meter/second gravity powered glide enabled SDB? I think in every instance, the 105 will be on target long before the SDB gets there.

  • AAK

    Useful and do-able. It won’t replace the 105/30 combo but the pace of development suggests a powerful airborne system won’t be far away. Throwing out a few numbers (admittedly wiki’d) a JLTV mountable 50kw system weighing 1100kg all up is apparently being developed, and the current navy (low power) system has a shot cost of 59c.

    Whatever the actual discharge cost and system size a c-130 scale laser doesn’t seem outlandish. Cheap on a per shot basis and far less collateral damage than a bomb or shell however clever their guidance.

  • Chris

    Bombs are dropped, not fired.

    • Chuck

      The AC-130 J and W variants technically do both. They use a tube launch system called the Gunslinger in addition to hardpoints on the wings.

    • Happy

      Wow Chris, how insightful, so when do grenade launchers become bomb-droppers? Is it in the angle of attack to which the bomb/grenade comes into the target?

  • David Hamling

    A laser in an AC-130 — you mean like the Advanced Tactical Laser program that
    Defencetech covered in 2008…are you sure this is a new idea or is there some amnesia creeping in here?

  • Dfens

    For a long time people have been talking about putting a rail gun on the C-130.

  • Wordell

    The Air Force already had a working 747 mounted laser weapon back in the early 2000’s and had shot down test missiles in firings. It was cancelled by Obama after his immaculation to help fund his voter base. I assume the gear used in the 747 can be downsized somewhat and mounted into a C-130.

    • ronaldo

      You couldn’t be more wrong on all of your technical assumptions. A little more homework on laser development and less political emphasis might be wise.

    • ccc40821

      He’s been the President for 1 1/2 terms now, and you still haven’t gotten over it?

    • sean

      That was a chemical laser which needs a gigantic vat of dangerous chemicals to power. These are undoubtedly solid state lasers and it’s really quite a different technology.

    • steve

      The 747 is obsolete as far as lasers go. There not only dangerous chemicals, it tended to “leak” the laser, which is very bad.

  • Greg

    The AC-13 Is nothin but a flying fortress of “u fucked!”

  • oblatt22

    Lasers are great they generate lots of research money, are expensive to deploy and deliver much less bang per buck.

    As Iraq and Afghanistan has sown there are huge profits to be made delivering quick fixes to replace the weapons that you sold before the war that we ineffective. The ineffectiveness of lasers as weapons is legendary they are perfect for premium upgrades.

    • Chuck

      The up-front cost is high but per-shot they are extremely cheap.

      • oblat22

        Cheap and ineffective. The perfect we on from the contractors point of view is expensive to develop and ineffective

  • Sev

    There are advantages to being able to silently incinerate a target from 20 miles away with an invisible laser beam/

  • George

    Hi all,

    Laser may not be powerful enough to destroy targets, but 100 to 500 mW laser (made by China of course), is enough to blind anyone. I would be especially concerned with IR laser (not visible).

  • Richard Aubrey

    A 105 cheaper.? Must be some reason not to do it.

  • ken

    If laser weapons are going to be viable weapons, then we need to start using them.

  • 7.62

    I think we need to start using all this tech we spend research and money on. The enemy can’t fight something they can’ t see. Plus the shock and awe factor. Don’t mess with the U.S.

  • 7.62

    My take on today’s world situation. We need to do what ever what ever it takes to end the threat of terrorism. We always respond to an action and sooner or later we are going to get hit big time. Lets use every technical advantage we have a save lives and our way of life. We worry about the Geneva Convention, does ISIS or the Taliban care about it? We are fighting barbarians, animals who don’t give a rats ass about anything but spreading terror and their ideology. This is going to destroy us if we don’t get a handle on it right away. The is emerging from within. They eventually will be in government. mayors, governors, senators, congressmen, president. Let’s not be politically correct and stupid. Americans are becoming naive, cowardly pussies. I fear we will not last another hundred years.

    • Vitor

      My Morpheus momento now: What if I told you that thru the decades, the american goverment has funded and bred many terrorists organizations including the Taliban on the 80s and ISIS just recently?

      LOL @ you calling people naive. A bunch of zealots with AKs in the other side of the word wont cause a hundredth of the destruction that wall the reckless spending, debt and manipulation of the market will cause.

  • shipfixr

    Amazing that such weapons can be considered for an aircraft that was flying before the concept of such a weapon was even a dream.

    • fhsmct

      But the 130 or yore versus the 130 (latest model) of today are totally different animals . . .

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Supplying the electrical power, storing it in capacitors, and disposing of waste heat requires plenty of cubic volume and weight; the 130 airframe can provide both. The first couple of generations of these systems are going to be heavy and bulky, I fear a hand phazer is still some years away.

  • Rthompson

    Jeez, as if its weapons weren’t enough, now lasers! Its gonna be like God flying in the air, taking out missiles and sending down Wrath. Gonna be a wonderful sight in the future.

  • Ideas2

    When can we upgrade the A10 Warthog?… maybe tilt-down from where the gun and ammo are stored? It could breath new life into the A10. And a computer can identify each target and apply the right aiming and correct energy to blow up an explosive or IED (or suicide vest), melt or deform a gun barrel rendering tanks, ect. inoperable, silently target enemies without throwing up the dust from a gun… fly some A10’s with guns and some with a LaWS or elsewise… A generator grabbing some rotation from the twin out-mounted jet engines should be able to get a lot of electricity needed, too.

  • mytg8

    Is it the same 105 howitzer as the H’s and U’s? I read somewhere that there were logistic problems with it and the 40mm.

  • GI dude

    How many cup-holders will this upgrade come with?


    how does the 130 handle the recoil from a 105mm howitzer? is this the same size shell as they used in WWII’s famed 105 howitzers? Do the new rounds recoil less than the ground mounted trailerable ones?

  • Mark

    20 feet of steel in 1 second. Sounds more like Star Trek power, but placed on a C-130.

  • Dfens

    It looks like the C-130 is dead. For $12 million less you can have a jet:

  • BBB

    Enterprise…come in Enterprise. Dammit Spock !…where the hell is my frickin laser.
    Your response is illogical Captain. We simply don’t have the technology yet.