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Historic AC-130 gunship gets more lethal

The historic, lethal and combat-tested AC-130 gunship -- known for attacking ISIS and Taliban fighters during close-air support high-risk combat missions -- is getting a massive technological upgrade with newer weapons and avionics to increase the effectiveness of the attack platform and extend its service life into future decades, service officials said.


"AC-130 gunship work involves upgrading the plane with weapons, targeting systems and sensor packages," Col. Robert Toth, Chief of Tactical Aircraft, Special Operations and Combat Search and Rescue Division, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

Early variants of the AC-130 gunship first entered combat in the late 1960s during the Vietnam war. Later variants served in the Gulf War, War on Terror and war in Afghanistan, among other missions.

The gunships, operated by Special Operations Command, are often used to support Special Operations fighters on the ground engaged in combat.

The aircraft is known for its 105mm side-firing cannons which enable it fire from a side-axis position during close-in combat supporting ground troops. The AC-130 Gunship also has a 25mm Gatling gun and a 40mm weapon, according to Air Force statements.

An air-to-air front view of an AC-130A Hercules gunship aircraft. The aircraft is from the 919th Special Operations Group (AFRESO), Eglin Air Force Base Auxiliary Field) 3 (Duke Field) Florida | Airman Magazine, December 1984.

The Lockheed-Boeing built aircraft uses four Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines, each with 4,300 shaft horsepower; the 155,000-pound aircraft has a 132-foot wingspan and hits speeds of 300 miles per hour. Its crew consists of a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, fire control officer, electronic warfare officers, flight engineer, TV operator, infrared detection operator, loadmaster and four aerial gunners.

The AC-130  gunship is a C-130 aircraft engineered for close-air support combat. Its variants include versions of a 105mm gun, called a M102 Howitzer, fires 33-pound high explosive shells at a firing rate of 10-round a minute. The weapon has a range up to seven miles and is the largest gun ever operated from a US Air Force aircraft, reports have said.

Air Force Special Operators ultimately plan to operate 37 of the newest version of the aircraft, the AC-130J Ghostrider, service officials said.

The aircraft's 25-millimeter Gatling Gun, the GAU-12, is the same weapon now on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; the weapon fires both High-Explosive-Incendiary and Armor Piercing-Incendiary rounds against enemy fighters, buildings and light vehicles, Air Force officials confirm.

In a recent attack, AC-130 gunships and A-10 Warthog close-air support aircraft together destroyed an ISIS fuel convoy of more than 100 vehicles.

 C-130 Fleet

The AC-130 gunships make up a small portion of a fleet of roughly 500 C-130 planes throughout the Air Force and Special Operations Command, Toth explained.

The cargo planes are used to airdrop supplies, equipment, weapons and troops in forward deployed locations.

As a propeller-driven aircraft, the C-130s are able to fly and land in more rugged conditions and withstand harsh weather such as obscurants. The propellers make the aircraft's engines less susceptible to debris flying in and causing operational problems for the engines.

"It really allows you to do that tactical movement of equipment and personnel to take the airplane to the last tactical mile. A lot of our transport strategic airlifters are meant to go to a hard runway to a hard runway somewhere and then they turn over the cargo to be moved to the forward areas to a C-130 or a vehicle. The C-130 allows you to take that cargo and land on a smaller runway or an unimproved airfield," Toth added.

C-130s are used for domestic, international and warzone transport including homeland security, disaster relief and supply deliveries, among other things.

"There are probably missions that have yet to be dreamed up for the C-130," Toth said.

The fleet consists of 135 more modern C-130J aircraft and 165 older C-130Hs which have been around since the 80s, Toth explained.

A C-130E from the 2nd Airlift Squadron, Pope AFB, N.C., flies over the Atlantic Ocean along the North Carolina coast. The C-130 Hercules primarily performs the intratheater portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for paradropping troops and equipment into hostile areas. | U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Howard Blair

Also, MC-130Js are specially modified airlifters engineered to transport Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Army Rangers.

"They are essentially a C-130J further modified with defensive systems with radar countermeasures and infrared radar and advanced sensors for specialized missions. They also can perform in-flight refueling," Toth explained.

C-130 Modernization

The Air Force remains vigilant about its C-130 fleet to ensure the airframes, wingboxes, avionics and communication systems remain safe and operational. This is particularly true of the older 1980s-era C-130Hs, Toth added.

"The thing that causes the greatest risk to the airplane is the life of the wing. We monitor the wing of the aircraft and as the wings get past their service life, we bring the airplanes back in and bring in new structures -- with the primary focus being the center wingbox which is the area where the wings mount to the fuselage," Toth said.

As for when a C-130 is in need of a maintenance upgrade to preserve and maintain service life, the Air Force uses an assessment metric referred to as "equivalent baseline hours." The wing-boxes are changed once the aircraft reaches a certain "severity factor" in its operational service time. This is necessary because the wear and tear or impact of missions upon and airplane can vary greatly depending upon a range of factors such as the altitude at which a plane is flying, Toth said.

"Low-level flight may be three to four times the severity factor of flying at a higher level," he said.

Also, by January of 2020 the entire fleet of C-130s will need to comply with an FAA mandate and be equipped with systems that will relay aircraft position to a greater fidelity back and forth between the airplane and the air traffic management authorities, he added. This will allow them to sequence more aircraft closer together and enhance an ability to move commerce.

Avionics Modernization Program, Increment 1 involves adding new 8.33 radios to the aircraft to improve communication along with initiatives to upgrade cockpit voice recorders and digital data recorders. C-130s will also receive new collision-avoidance technology designed to prevent the planes from hitting terrain or colliding with one another mid-air.  Inc. 1 is currently ongoing and is slated to complete by 2019.

AMP Inc. 2 involves a larger-scale effort to integrate digital avionics throughout the airplane. Inc. 2 will require nine-months to one year of work and be completed by 2028, Toth explained.

"This will allow us to bring the airplane from analog to digital, integrate a glass cockpit and use touchscreen displays. We will get away from the old systems of avionics where we had dial-driven instrumentation to where it is all digital. This makes us able to process a lot more information," Toth said.

As part of the C-130 modernization calculus, the Air Force will consider retiring some C-130Hs and replace them with newly-built C-130Js; the service has authority to acquire an additional 20 C-130Js, Toth added.

"We continue to evaluate where it makes sense to retire and older airplane and instead put that money into buying new airplanes," he said.

NEWS
Rosie Perper

Russia wants America's spot on the Human Rights Council

Russia wants a spot on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) following the US's withdrawal on June 19, 2018.

Russia quickly swooped in on the empty seat and put forward its candidacy for a three-year term starting in 2021.

"The UNHRC operates on the basis of the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation. It is a UN body that, like the entire UN system, is called upon to serve all Member States, not just one country or group of countries," Russia's UN mission said in a statement. "Unfortunately, our colleagues in Washington do not understand this or do not recognize it."

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This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

Enter Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a program Microsoft started in 2013 to provide transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today's growing technology industry.

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This video of a drone with a flamethrower will haunt your dreams

Watch the video in the tweet below. Are you experiencing both amazement and fear? You're not alone.

This video has been making the rounds on Twitter recently, but it was actually filmed a little over a year ago. According to Gizmodo, an electric-power maintenance company in Xiangyang, China, had been using these flame-throwing drones to burn off garbage and debris from electrical wires.

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This band hires vets — especially when they go on tour

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How you can use your military skills in survival games

Military leaders loves to take their troops into the backwoods for a quick impromptu land navigation class. Even when troops should be gearing up for combat in desert environments, they still teach them how to survive in forests. There is a lot of cross-over things to consider, regardless of where you're at — like seeking shelter, finding water and food, how to create warmth, and survive the elements.

While it's great to have these skills in your hip pocket, it can also make you way too intense when you go camping with your civilian friends. They will, however, make you just the right amount of intense when you play a survival game.

All the fun of surviving in a zombie-infested hellscape without actually having to survive in a zombie-infested hellscape!(DayZ by Bohemia Interactive)

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Debbie Aragon

This veteran found his lifeline at the end of a leash

After battling night terrors and the pain and anxiety of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades, an Air Force veteran found his lifeline at the end of a dog leash.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager in the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, vividly remembers a few years ago when he would regularly find himself in the depths of fear and despair; reliving troubling images from deployments as a security forces military working dog handler and later as a logistics specialist.

Kaono's wife, Alessa, said she felt helpless, with no idea how to help him.

"You see a look in their eyes that they're suffering but you don't know what you can do to help them. It's a terrible feeling watching someone suffer through PTSD," she said.

Those memories seemed so hopeless at times that Kaono attempted to end his life.

After taking numerous prescription drugs in 2010 in a bid to permanently end his pain, Kaono finally reached out for help and started receiving the support and understanding he needed.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager with the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, takes his service dog Romeo for a walk around the building.(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)

"I had previously attempted (suicide) but this time I actually sought treatment," Kaono said.

After being hospitalized for his suicide attempt, the veteran began a treatment program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Los Angeles.

"When I was first diagnosed, group therapy didn't work for me," the Hawaii-native said, "so I actually left the group and started volunteering at a (German Shepherd) rescue in California."

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Dogs had always played a part in Kaono's life from when, as a toddler, his family's old English sheepdog, Winston, picked him up by the diaper to deliver a wandering Ryan back to his front yard.

"I realized (while volunteering at the rescue) that the interaction with the dogs really made me feel better," he said.

Not content to just help himself, Kaono worked with the VA hospital to help other veterans interact with the rescue dogs and promoted animal therapy.

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5 boring details a Space Force private will get stuck on

The Space Force is presumed to be exactly like our current military. Over-the-top recruitment videos will only lead to utter disappointment, just like any other branch. "You'll get to see the world," the recruiter will promise, but we all know you'll probably just be seeing it from a desk back on Earth. Even in many years when the need for space infantrymen comes up, it'll still be filled with all the same BS that happens down here.

Think about it. There will still be NCOs and officers who will still need to bide their time until closeout formation. The only difference will be that it'll take place 254 miles above the Earth's surface. And how will latrines work? Who will clean them?!

You know the answer.

1. Literally cleaning the ship absolutely spotlessly

Remember those novelty "space pens" that you can find at souvenir shops? The joke on the back is that America spent a butt load of cash trying to get a pen that could write upside-down and with zero-G's but those crafty Russians just used a pencil. Hate to burst that bubble but no one uses pencils in space for a very specific reason.

Any bit of dust or flakes caused by just regular everyday things, like pencil shavings, could mess with electrical systems while it's floating around in space.

That's just from man-made stuff... then you have to worry about the stardust

(NASA)

2. Vacuuming all that stardust

Of course no one down here can see it, but space is actually pretty filthy. There's plenty of dust on the outside the atmosphere from when the universe was formed and we can't go around with an unclean space ship. Most of it is microscopic but NASA astronauts regularly have to clean the dust or else it gets everywhere.

Any spacewalk done will suck in plenty of that minuscule specs of dust whenever the bay-doors open. When the astronaut comes back into the oxygen-filled area, the dust will follow. And some poor space private will have to vacuum all that up.

You can't honestly expect lieutenants to clean up after themselves when there are privates available, now can you?

3. Police calling space debris

All of this is just to clean up the inside of ship — there's also the outside. Satellites and other man-made debris deteriorate eventually and even a 1cm paint flake could zoom low orbit faster than a bullet. Those flakes can rupture panels and cause all sorts of hell on the ship.

This problem is magnified with even larger pieces of debris, like a baseball sized scrap of metal hitting anything at 4.76 miles per second. To prevent Newton's Second Law (force is equal to the mass times acceleration) from obliterating everyone on board, it's up to the space privates to handle it.

I want this globe spotless or no one is being released.

(NASA)

4. Container organizing... but in zero G's

At first, it seems like this would be so much easier in space. You wouldn't have to lift heavy things because it's near weightless now. And astronauts are notorious about taking only what they need into space. But that's the silver-lining. Trying to tie things down and organizing things to take up as little space as possible is the real problem.

A space private's Tetris skills will be checked as there isn't any room for open space.

Good luck finding that ONE serial number for the change of command layout.

(NASA)

5. Repairing the exterior of the ship

There is a diminishing return on enjoyment. The first time you go on a space walk, it'll be beyond your wildest expectations. Your 1,348th time going on a space walk to scrub the stardust off the window because the Colonel is coming won't be as great.

Even more high-stress would be making repairs on the spaceship. Any minor mistake and either you die alone or everyone gets sucked into the vacuum of space.

Imagine losing a wrench and sending it soaring into Earth's atmosphere.

(NASA)

GEAR & TECH
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The Air Force is finally getting its long-delayed new tanker

The Air Force and Boeing have reached agreement on delivery of the long delayed KC-46 Pegasus tanker, with the two sides expecting the first aircraft to arrive in October 2018, according to Bloomberg.

Boeing's original deadline to deliver 18 planes and additional materials was August 2017, but the $44 billion program has been hit by numerous delays and setbacks, and the Air Force said this spring it expected Boeing to miss its deadline to deliver the planes by October 2018, with the first KC-46 not arriving until the end of 2018 and all 18 planes by spring 2019.

The delivery of the first KC-46 by October 2018 is two months earlier than the Air Force anticipated. Matthew Donovan, the Air Force undersecretary, told Bloomberg the timeline was "aggressive but achievable." Under the new schedule, the other 17 planes will arrive by April 2019.

The Air Force plans to buy 179 of the KC-46. Once it begins receiving them, the service will start phasing out its older KC-10 tankers. It will hold on to 300 of its KC-135 tankers, which average 55 years old. That would expand the tanker fleet to 479 KC-135s and KC-46s from the current 455 KC-135s and KC-10s.

A KC-46 Pegasus refuels an A-10 Thunderbolt, July 15, 2016.(Boeing photo by John D. Parker)

Under their contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force's $4.82 billion commitment. But delays in delivery could mean the Air Force will have to keep 19 KC-135s in service through 2023 at a cost of up to $10 million a plane annually.

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The most serious problem facing the tanker has been the risk of its refueling boom scraping the surface of planes receiving fuel, which can damage stealth aircraft and potentially ground the tanker.

Other issues include the operation of the remote vision system, which is used to guide the boom; problems with the unexpected disconnection of its centerline drogue system, which is used to refuel aircraft; and concerns about the plane's high-frequency radio, which uses the skin of the plane to broadcast. The latter two issues were downgraded to category-two deficiencies early 2018.

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