U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is building a prototype of the new AC-130J Ghostrider gunship. This model will use more smart bombs and missiles, have fewer cannons, and have more and better sensors. There will still be a 105mm cannon on board and wings modified to carry two 130 kg (285 pound) Small Diameter Bombs (SDB). The latest version, the SDB II (GBU 40) is basically an unpowered missile which can glide long distances. This makes the SDB even more compact and capable. The small wings allow the SDB to glide up to 70-80 kilometers (from high altitude). SDB also has a hard front end that can punch through nearly three meters (eight feet) of rock or concrete and a warhead that does less damage than the usual dumb bomb (explosives in a metal casing). The SDB II has an encrypted data link that enables the SDB to hit moving targets. This communications capability enables the SDB movement to be controlled via the air force’s airborne Internet (Link 16). The prototype is expected to fly for the first time by the end of 2013. On the Ghostrider the SDB provides the kind of support only a bomber aircraft could supply previously.
The U.S. Air Force is buying 16 C-130J transports, for $100 million each for conversion into AC-130J gunships. Equipping the new gunships will nearly double the price, and the first one won’t enter service until 2017.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s that even our slowest, fattest plane can kill you quite dead.