The AC-130J Ghostrider, a modified version of the MC-130J aircraft, is expected to replace the legacy AC-130H/U aircraft of the US Air Force. The first test flight of the AC-130J Ghostrider was completed in January 2014.
Lockheed Martin will deliver 37 AC-130J Ghostrider aircraft to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) by 2025. The total investment for the AC-130J Ghostrider programme is estimated to reach $2.4bn.
C-130J Hercules: Details
AC-130J Ghostrider development details
The first MC-130J arrived at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) for conversion into the AC-130J configuration in January 2013. The aircraft was officially named Ghostrider in May 2012.
The preliminary design review (PDR) for the AC-130J programme was concluded in March 2013. The operational test readiness review (OTRR) and the critical design review (CDR) were conducted in April 2013 and August 2013 respectively.
Northrop Grumman Corporation was awarded a contract by the AFSOC to supply radio frequency countermeasure platforms for the AC-130J aircraft in January 2016.
BAE systems was contracted to provide new electronic warfare systems for the AC-130J Ghostrider aircraft, in July 2017.
The initial operational capacity for 16 aircraft of the AC-130J Ghostrider fleet is scheduled for 2017, while the last delivery is scheduled for 2021.
AC-130J Ghostrider missions and capabilities
The hybrid AC-130J Ghostrider incorporates the flying proficiencies of the MC-130J and the air-to-ground combat capabilities of the AC-130. It will conduct continuous strike operations, including close air support (CAS) for troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defence. The deep air support missions are executed against pre-planned targets and targets of opportunity.
The AC-130J Ghostrider’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity and include strike coordination and reconnaissance and overwatch mission sets. The AC-130J will provide ground forces an expeditionary, direct-fire platform that is persistent, ideally suited for urban operations and delivers precision low-yield munitions against ground targets. Source af.mil
The aircraft is capable of air refuelling with the universal air refueling receptacle slipway installation (UARRSI) system but is not fitted with the external hose-and-drogue pods for refuelling other aircraft.
Features of the AC-130J Ghostrider
The AC-130J is a highly modified C-130J aircraft that contains many advanced features. It contains an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics. The aircraft is capable of extremely accurate navigation due to the fully integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation systems and global positioning system. Aircraft defensive systems and color weather radar are integrated as well. The aircraft is capable of air refueling with the Universal Air Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation system. Source af.mil
|Type: Radar||Altitude Max: 0 m|
|Range Max: 92.6 km||Altitude Min: 0 m|
|Range Min: 0.2 km||Generation: Early 2000s|
|Properties: Pulse Doppler Radar (Full LDSD Capability)|
|Sensors / EW:|
|AN/APN-241 [MR-3000] – (2008) Radar
Role: Radar, Weather and Navigation
Max Range: 92.6 km
The AC-130J Ghostrider has an overall length of 29.3m, a height of 11.9m and wingspan of 39.7m. It can operate at a maximum altitude of 28,000ft with a payload of 42,000lb. Its maximum take-off weight is 164,000lb.
The fourth generation gunship aircraft can accommodate two pilots, two combat systems officers, and three enlisted gunners. The aircraft is also designed to accommodate the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system.
Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system
The AN/AAQ-24(V) Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) system is the only DIRCM system in production today that will protect aircraft from today’s infrared guided missiles.
Traditional IR countermeasures are not effective against the modern IR missiles that are growing in popularity among terrorist groups and in thirdworld countries. A Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) system is required to defeat the latest and future advanced IR threats, and has a lower life cycle cost compared to other IR countermeasure approaches.
- Simultaneously tracks and defeats threats in clutter environments
- Fast, accurate threat detection and simultaneous jamming in all current IR threat Bands (I, II and IV)
- Counters all fielded IR missile threats using a single generic jam waveform
- Complete end-to-end self-testing features reduce life-cycle maintenance
- Compatible with existing support facilities
The AAQ-24(V) is available in a laser-based configuration. Northrop Grumman then selects from a modular family of transmitters, jammers and missile warning systems to provide a customized installation best able to meet your specific platform, mission and budget requirements. Upgrades to existing systems are easy to install without further airframe modifications.
The AC-130J is fitted with an AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver, AN/AAR-47 (V) 2 missile warning system, and AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system for reduced susceptibility. The safety and protection systems of the aircraft include a fuel protection system from ullage explosion, redundant flight critical components, and QinetiQ’s Last lightweight composite armour system to protect crew locations and oxygen supply areas from 7.62mm ball projectiles.
AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver
The AN/ALR-56M Advanced Radar Warning Receiver (ARWR) continuously detects and intercept RF signals in certain frequency ranges and analyzes and separates threat signals from non-threat signals. It displays threat signals to pilot on a priority basis and provides efficient and effective logistical support to the using command activities for the system. It contributes to full-dimensional protection by improving individual aircraft probability of survival through improved aircrew situational awareness of the radar guided threat environment. An RWR processor/memory capacity upgrade was required to allow incorporation of software algorithm enhancements (RAD, etc) to fix known threat ambiguity and false alarm problems. The F-16 SPO initiated an ALR-56M processor upgrade program which will provide a common processor for both the ALR-56M/56C configurations; the F-16 SPO committed funds to the common NRE tasks and the F-15 SPO is required to only fund unique F-15 RWR requirements. This upgrade will replace 7 SRUs with one. The ALR-56M includes a fast scanning superhet receiver, superhet controller, analysis processor, low band receiver/power supply, and four quadrant receivers. The ALR-56M is designed to provide improved performance in a dense signal environment and improved detection of modern threat signals, as compared to the version of the ALR-69 which it replaced. A miniaturized version of the F-15’s ALR-56C, the ALR-56M is a form and fit replacement for the ALR-69 RWR in the F-16 and other aircraft. It is installed primarily in F-16 Block 40 (Close Air Support – CAS) aircraft and above. ALR-69 upgrades are ongoing for earlier blocks of the F-16 and some other aircraft. The ALR-56M is the RWR chosen for integration into the open architecture Defensive System Upgrade Program (DSUP) in the B-1B bomber Conventional Mission Upgrade Program. Source fas.org
AN/AAR-47 (V) 2 missile warning system
Employed on helicopters and transport aircraft, the AN/AAR-47 Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) warns of threat missile approach by detecting radiation associated with the rocket motor and automatically initiates flare ejection.
The AN/AAR-47 is a passive Electro-Optic Missile Warning System designed to provide warning of Surface to Air Missiles (SAMS) and pass information to countermeasures systems. Employed on helicopters and transport aircraft, the AAR-47 Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) warns of threat missile approach, enabling the effective employment of evasive maneuvers and electronic and infrared countermeasures.
Detection algorithms are used to discriminate against non-approaching radiation sources. The AN/AAR-47 system is similar to the AN/AAR-44, but instead of a revolving sensor unit it uses four IR sensors located in four quadrants on the Aircraft. The AAR-47 is a passive, missile- approach warning system consisting of four sensor assemblies housed in two or more sensor domes, a central processing unit, and a control indicator. The Warning System provides attacking missile declaration and sector direction finding and will be interfaced directly to the ALE-39/47 countermeasures dispenser. Without the AAR-47, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft have no infrared missile detection system. Source fas.org
AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system
The ALE-47 is so advanced, it thinks for itself. The system uses information from integrated electronic warfare sensors such as radar warning receivers and missile warning receivers to determine the correct response to defeat infrared and radio-frequency guided missiles. The cockpit crew has complete control of their threat situation by choosing to operate in any of the four modes: automatic, semi-automatic, manual, or bypass. Source baesystems.com
USSOCOM’s Precision Strike Package (PSP) armament for the AC-130J Ghostrider
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) developed and installed the modular Precision Strike Package (PSP) for the aircraft. The armament kits under the PSP include a 30mm GAU-23 automatic side firing chain gun, a 105mm cannon, and Standoff Precision Guided Munitions (SOPGM) comprising wing-mounted GBU-39 small diameter bombs and AGM-176 Griffin laser-guided missiles. The internally mounted missiles can be launched through the rear cargo door.
30mm GAU-23 automatic side firing chain gun
The GAU-23 Bushmaster® Automatic Cannon is a next-generation Chain Gun weapon available and in use today. It continues the Bushmaster tradition of excellence with its design simplicity, external power, positive round control, ease of maintenance, and constant velocity ammunition feed. It incorporates all of the battle-proven features of the 25mm M242 and Mk44 Bushmaster cannons, with significant system commonality for low-risk, proven performance. Source army-guide.com
M102 105mm Cannon
The M102 105mm Cannon was derived from the Army field artillery M1A1 howitzer and was modified to be fired from the left rear side door of the AC-130 gunship aircraft. To accomodate this cannon, one of the side-firing 40mm guns was removed from the aircraft and replaced by the radome that formerly had been installed in the door cavity. That change provided enough space for the 105mm gun to be mounted in the doorway in place of the radome. The gun was used extensively beginning with the Vietnam War. Source fas.org
Specification for towed howitzer
- Length: 17.1 ft
- Width: 6.4 ft
- Height: 5.2 ft
- Weight: 3,004 lbs
- Crew: 8
- Range: 11,500 m standard; 15,100 m rocket-assisted
- Max. Rate of Fire: 10 rounds per minute for first 3 minutes
- Sustained Rate of Fire: 3 rounds per minute
- Ammunition: The M102 fires all standard NATO 105mm ammunition, but not the newer extended range ammo
GBU-39 small diameter bombs
The GBU-39B Small Diameter Bomb, or SDB, is an extended range all-weather, day or night 250-pound class, guided munition. The SDB relies on the Global Positioning System to provide navigation to the target. Additionally, its small size allows increased aircraft loadout to achieve multiple kills per sortie and inherently reduces the probability of collateral damage.
Primary Function: Guided air-to-surface weapon
Contractor: Boeing Co.
Range: More than 40 nautical miles (46 miles)
Guidance System: Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System
Unit cost: Approximately $40,000
Initial operational capability: October 2006
AGM-176 Griffin laser-guided missiles
Description: The Griffin is a small, lightweight, flexible precision-guided weapon for irregular warfare operations developed and funded by Raytheon along with the Small Tactical Munition (STM) using components from other weapon systems developed by the company. The weapon reduced size makes possible to engage soft targets with minimal collateral damage. Its flexible guidance system and simple and user-friendly graphic interface allows the Griffin to operate easily as a fire and forget weapon using GPS coordinates or Inertial Navigation or as a high precision laser-guided missile switching between guidance modes depending on the target needs. The weapon system has been designed to be easily and quickly integrated onto existing platforms. In October 2010, the Griffin was already integrated and operational with the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) C-130W Dragon Spear aircraft. As of September 2011, the Griffin missile was in production and integrated on the C-130W Dragon Spear and the United States Marine Corps C-130 Harvest Hawk.
Diameter: 5 inch (127 millimeter)
Length: 43 inch (1,092 millimeter)
Max Range: 3 nautical mile (3.45 mile)
Launch Unit Weight: 44 pound (20.0 kilogram)
Warhead: 14 pound (6.35 kilogram)
Weight: 33 pound (15.0 kilogram)
The intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance equipment under the PSP include two electro-optical/infrared sensors, an all-weather synthetic aperture radar pod, a pilot helmet-mounted cueing system, and multiple video, data and communication links. A dual-console Mission Operator Pallet within the cargo bay controls all the PSP subsystems. The aircraft is also equipped with advanced fire control equipment.
Engines and performance
The aircraft is fitted with four Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 Turboprops with a thrust power of 3,458kW each. Each of the AE 2100D3 engines is 3.15m in length and 0.73m in diameter. The engines drive four six-bladed Dowty propellers.
4 x Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3
The Rolls-Royce AE 2100 is a 4,000-shp class two-spool turboprop engine with a 14-stage high-pressure compressor driven by a two-stage high-pressure gas turbine. The low-pressure shaft is driven by a two-stage power turbine and drives the compound planetary reduction gearbox connected to the propeller. The engine is the first to use dual FADECs (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) to control both engine and propeller.
The AE 2100 is a turboprop derivative of the AE 1107C-Liberty turboshaft engine. It has been developed to power military transports, long-range maritime patrol aircraft and the new generation of high-speed regional aircraft in the 50 to 70 seat category. The engine’s modular design and easily accessible components reduce maintenance costs, and operators benefit from over 80% parts commonality with the AE family of engines which includes the AE 3007 and AE 1107C-Liberty. The AE engine line overall has accumulated 65 million engine flight hours.
The AE 2100D3 engine is coupled to a six-bladed Dowty (GE Aviation Systems)) R391 propeller system for use on the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules Family (C-130J + C-130J-30 + HC/MC-130J + KC-130J + AC-130J) of military transport, special mission, aerial refueling, and gunship aircraft. It is also the engine of choice on Lockheed Martin’s LM-100J commercial freighter (a C-130J derivative aircraft).
Manufacturer: Rolls-Royce plc
AE 2100 A/P: 4,152 shp (3,096 kW)
AE 2100D2 and AE 2100D3: 4,637 shp (3,458 kW)
AE 2100J: 4,591 shp (3,423 kW)
Overall Pressure Ratio at Maximum Power: 16.6
Compressor: Two-spool, axial flow
Compressor Stages: 14 HP
Turbine: 2 HP + 2 PT
Engine Control: Dual FADEC
Combustor Type: Annular
Length: AE 2100D2 and AE 2100P: 118 in (2.99 m);
AE 2100D3: 124 in (3.15 m); AE 2100J: 114 in (2.89 m)
Diameter: 28.7 in (72.9 cm)
Dry Weight: AE 2100D2: 1,727 lbs (783 kg); AE 2100D3: 1,925 lbs (873 kg);
AE 2100J: 1,640 lbs (744 kg); AE 2100P: 1,610 lbs (730 kg)
The aircraft is equipped with 60/90KV amp generators providing increased direct current (DC) electrical output. The aircraft can reach a maximum distance of 3,000 miles without refuelling and can fly at a speed of 362k at 22,000ft altitude.
Primary Function: Close air support and air interdiction with associated collateral missions
Builder: Lockheed Martin
Power Plant: Four Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3 Turboprops
Thrust: 4,700 shaft horsepower
Wingspan: 132 feet 7 inches (39.7 meters)
Length: 97 feet 9 inches (29.3 meters)
Height: 39 feet 2 inches (11.9 meters)
Speed: 362 knots at 22,000 feet
Ceiling: 28,000 feet with 42,000 lb payload
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 164,000 lbs
Range: 3,000 miles
Crew: Two pilots, two combat systems officers, one sensor operator and four special mission aviators
Armament: Precision Strike Package with 30mm and 105mm cannons and Standoff Precision Guided Munitions (i.e. GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and AGM-176 Griffin missile)
Date Deployed: TBD
Unit Cost: $115 million
Inventory: Active force, 32 by fiscal 2021
Main material source airforce-technology.com
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Main image Paul Callaghan