How Powerful is the New AC-130J Ghostrider

The AC-130J Ghostrider is the latest iteration of the AC-130 series of aircraft, which has a long and storied history of serving in various conflicts around the world.

The AC-130 “Hercules” is one of the most iconic aircraft.

Initially developed as a heavy transport aircraft, the airframe has been heavily modified for specialist roles over the years, including its mighty J gunship variant. With an assortment of cannons, missiles, and bombs, the C-130J certainly is worthy of its classification as a “gunship.”

The AC-130J “Ghostrider” variant is modified for close air support, air interdiction, and special operations missions. To this end, it is equipped with various weapons systems, including 30mm and 105mm cannons, AGM-176 Griffin missiles, and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs, as well as advanced sensors and navigation equipment.

And yes, you read that right, an actual howitzer!

The “Ghostrider” is an advanced and versatile aircraft that can be used in various mission scenarios, making it a valuable asset to the United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

Additionally, the “Ghostrider” is equipped with advanced sensors and navigation equipment, including a LIDAR sensor and a synthetic aperture radar, which allows it to detect and track targets in various weather conditions. The aircraft also has an enhanced communications suite and improved survivability features that increase its operational capabilities.

Built by Lockheed Martin and modified by Boeing into a gunship, the AC-130 family, including the “Ghost Rider,” has a long combat history that dates back to Vietnam.

With fully integrated digital avionics, it has a cutting-edge two-pilot flying station. Due to the completely integrated navigation systems with dual inertial navigation systems and a global positioning system, the aircraft is capable of exceptionally accurate navigation.

Additionally, the aircraft comes with advanced defense systems and color weather radar. The Universal Air Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installation system enables air refueling for the aircraft.

The Precision Strike Package is another important feature of the AC-130J. It consists of a mission management console, a powerful communications suite, two electro-optical/infrared sensors, advanced fire control equipment, the ability to deliver precision-guided munitions, and trainable 30mm and 105mm weapons.

The mission management system creates a common operating picture from sensors, communication, environment, order of battle, and threat information.

The AC-130J is a fifth-generation gunship replacing the U.S.’ stock of aging AC-130U/W gunships.

For the past forty years, AC-130s have continuously deployed to global hotspots in support of conventional and special operations forces. Gunships have substantially contributed to mission success throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and South America.

In May 2012, the AC-130J's official name became “Ghostrider,” and in June 2015, the initial AC-130J aircraft finished its developmental testing and evaluation. Full operational capability is anticipated for 2025, though initial operational capacity was obtained in 2017.

The 73rd Special Operations Squadron, the first AC-130J squadron, was activated on February 23, 2018, at Hurlburt Field in Florida. In November of 2022, AFSOC took delivery of its 31st and final AC-130J “Ghostrider,” completing the command’s transition from the legacy AC-130W, AC-130U, and AC-130H fleets.

But that doesn’t mean the “Ghostrider” is finished with its development.

As for the future of this mighty aircraft, if its current package of firepower wasn’t enough, plans are afoot to mount directed-energy weapons on it too.

After completing factory acceptance testing of the system, Lockheed shipped the 60-watt laser to AFSOC in October 2021. If given the go-ahead, the “Ghost Rider’s” future is certainly sitting pretty.