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AC-130 gunships could be outfitted with laser cannons

The new head of Air Force Special Operations Command has said he's bullish on outfitting part of his fearsome AC-130 gunship fleet with lasers to blast ground targets and is even considering placing such weapons on CV-22 Osprey tiltrotors for his air commandos.


Admittedly a high-energy laser cannon on an airplane as small as a C-130 Hercules (others have fit on Navy ships and 747-sized airplanes) is still in the research phase, but that hasn't kept AFSOC from pursuing the technology since 2015.

The AC-130J Ghostrider will provide close air support, special operations armed airborne reconnaissance, and ordnance delivery to precise targets in support of ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"I absolutely do not intend to take the foot off the gas with respect to the development of a high energy laser. ... I am absolutely on board with that," said AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb. "I think that while it's a gunship effort now, we have to keep our eye on what technologies continue to develop that would place that and any other types of these technologies on other airframes as well."

Webb added during an interview with reporters at the 2016 Air Force Association Air, Space, Cyber conference Sep. 21 that a laser cannon could even be included on CV-22s as the weapon matures.

The former commander of AFSOC, Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold launched a program last year to accelerate the development of a laser cannon for his gunship fleet, as well as a number of other advanced technologies to make the AC-130 more survivable and deadly on the battlefield. The Air Force has teamed with Navy researchers who helped deploy a laser aboard the USS Ponce and other think tanks to develop tactics for using a laser cannon on the battlefield.

he Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

New AFSOC commander Webb said he's also working closely with the Marine Corps — which has outfitted several of its KC-130Js with air-to-ground weapons and designated them "Harvest Hawk" — on deploying a laser cannon on their planes.

"That kind of spirit is going to apply on a number of the programs that the Marines and SOF see that are mutually supported going forward," Webb said.