AFSOC's final AC-130J was handed over to the Cannon-based 27th Special Operations Wing (SOW) after a commemoration ceremony was held for the milestone delivery at the Lockheed Martin Gunship Modification Facility in Crestview, Florida. With the acceptance of its 31st and final Ghostrider, AFSOC has now completed its transition from the legacy AC-130H Spectre, AC-130U Spooky and AC-130W Stinger II gunships to the new-generation AC-130J, which is the most modern variant of the AC-130 family to enter operational service.
An extensively modified, special mission variant of Lockheed Martin's C-130J Super Hercules tactical transport aircraft and described as a fifth-generation fixed-wing gunship, the AC-130J Ghostrider is employed by AFSOC to perform close air support (CAS), air interdiction and armed reconnaissance missions in support of Special Operation Forces (SOF) in a variety of different operational theatres.
In 2009, the US Secretary of Defense decided to recapitalise the AC-130 fleet by renewing it with a new-build variant that was based on the more modern C-130J platform and its enhanced avionics, which would provide greater speeds and more time on station while on operations in theatre due to its longer range. The Ghostrider achieved initial operational capability (IOC) on September 30, 2017, and marked its combat debut over Afghanistan in the summer of 2019.
Commenting on his experience of procuring the AC-130Js, Lt Gen Jim Slife - the AFSOC commander - said: “This airplane and its predecessors have exceeded all our expectations and kept more Americans alive than any other airplane on the battlefield.
“The future is going to be different than what we have experienced for the last 20 years, but one thing I am certain of is this airplane will be relevant to whatever the future operating environment brings, so thank you all for delivering such a magnificent capability to today’s warfighters.”