Air Force Special Operations Command has accepted that it will trade some offensive capability for cost savings and fielding time on its future laser-equipped Lockheed Martin AC-130J Ghostrider if the laser is mounted on the side of the aircraft.
Although a laser turret mounted on the bottom of the gunship will provide more offensive and defensive capability in the long run, the belly-mounted turret would cost more and take much longer to develop, an Air Force spokesman told FlightGlobal this week. The side configuration would require fewer modifications to the existing aircraft, he added.
A recent Air Force Scientific Advisory Board study examined the laser’s placement in a turret on the aircraft’s belly versus mounting the laser on the side in place of the 30-millimeter gun. The AFSAB found the side-mount position would reduce the area the laser could prosecute since the aircraft itself would block its effective hemisphere. Half of that hemisphere points upward, a direction that’s largely useless against surface-to-air missiles, AFSAB chair Werner Dahm said in a June 24 email to FlightGlobal. The belly-mounted turret would have full range to target SAMs.
“To keep demo costs down they [AFSOC] are considering putting the turret in the existing side hole, where the gun currently sits,” Dahm said. “This will still allow us to learn a lot about how to employ a laser in AFSOC missions, but it is not nearly as useful as having the turret on the bottom in the demo.”
But AFSOC chief Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, who is pursuing an aggressive schedule for the laser gunship and plans to field a testbed by 2020, would make the capability tradeoff in order to field the aircraft faster.