AC-130Ws demonstrate ASuW role in the Middle East

In a first-of-its-kind joint exercise with the US Navy, Lockheed AC-130W Stinger IIs from the US Air Force have practiced supporting maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf, demonstrating the type’s anti-surface warfare (ASuW) role.

The exercise took place between March 8-9 and was designed to enhance the capabilities available to US forces in responding to surface threats. It saw AC-130Ws work together with navy-operated Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships for the first time. In this live-fire exercise, the Stinger IIs engaged simulated surface vessels that were selected by the Poseidon and Cyclone-class ships.

AC-130W [USAF/A1C Victor J Caputo] #1
An AC-130W Stinger II assigned to the 27th SOS at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, receives fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker based from McConnell AFB, Kansas, in August 2013. USAF/A1C Victor J Caputo

CAPT Peter Mirisola, commander of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 50 and of Combined Task Force (CTF) 55, said: “Our surface forces integrating with aircraft that have the firepower of an AC-130W brings a capability to the joint force that profoundly enhances our lethality in the maritime environment. The addition of the gunship to the joint maritime battle significantly enhances our ability to detect, track, engage and defeat surface threats in order to control water space in the Arabian Gulf.

“The effectiveness of this joint capability to conduct maritime strike, reconnaissance and armed overwatch was clearly displayed during this live-fire event,” CAPT Mirisola added.

AC-130W ASuW Joint Exercise [US Navy] #1
An AC-130W Stinger II engages a target during the live-fire joint exercise on March 8. The interoperability exercise saw the gunship work alongside the coastal patrol ship, USS Monsoon (PC 4). US Navy

The AC-130W is normally used for close air support (CAS) and air interdiction missions. This joint exercise marks the first time that the aircraft has been operated in direct support of maritime operations in the Arabian Gulf.

VADM Jim Malloy, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), said: “We’ve effectively employed similar joint capabilities in the past to counter belligerent forces that attempt to disrupt or hinder the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation in the region using force, or attack US, coalition or partner forces in a conflict… We will continue to work across component commands and coalition partners to further improve the lethality of our forces through our ability to simultaneously engage a multitude of threats in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea and adjacent waters.”

AC-130W [USAF/SA Shelby Kay-Fantozzi] #1
An AC-130W took part in honouring four generations of AFSOC gunship aircraft at the High Plains Air Show in May 2016. A formation flypast took place comprising a AC-47 Spooky, an AC-130U Spooky, and AC-130W Stinger II and the new AC-130J Ghostrider. USAF/SA Shelby Kay-Fantozzi

The Stinger IIs used in this exercise were assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), based from Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico, which falls under the ranks of USAF Special Operations Command (AFSOC). According to AirForces Intelligence, the USAF took delivery of 12 Stinger IIs – which entered operational service in 2012. As of March 17, 2020, the air arm had withdrawn two examples from service, leaving ten on operational duty. The AC-130W employs a 30mm GAU-23 cannon, a 105mm howitzer, standoff precision-guided munitions and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs. The aircraft will ultimately be replaced by the AC-130J Ghostrider, which is currently in development and production.