March 13, 2019 (by SSgt. Marleah Cabano) - The 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, is now home to Air Force Special Operations Command's newest aircraft – the Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider gunship.
AFSOC leadership tours AC-130J Ghostrider gunship #16-5837 during its unveiling at Bob Sikes Airport Crestview, Florida on March 6, 2019. This AC-130J is the first to be delivered to the 4th SOS at Hurlburt Field, as the AC-130U Spooky is slowly being retired from active duty after more than 20 years of operation. [USAF photo by SrA Caleb Pavao]
Similar to the Block 20 AC-130Js flown by the 73rd Special Operations Squadron, the Block 30 upgrade marks a major improvement in software and avionics technology over the current fleet of Block 20s.
"The Block 30 AC-130J is now our most lethal aircraft in AFSOC's inventory," said Maj. Brandon Hughes, AFSOC headquarters AC-130J requirements chief.
The new 4th SOS gunship is equipped with the precision strike package, which includes a mission management console, a robust communications suite, two electro-optical/infrared sensors, advanced fire control equipment, a precision-guided munitions delivery capability, as well as trainable 30 mm Mk 44 Bushmaster II and 105 mm M102 howitzer weapons onboard. Additional improvements include updated crew seats with added safety features and a relocation of equipment into more optimal locations.
The 4th SOS currently operates the AC-130U Spooky and has held the title as the most deployed squadron in the U.S. Air Force since 9/11.
"The men and women of the 4th SOS have been executing the close air support and air interdiction mission with one of the most feared gunships, the AC-130U, for 20 years," said Col. Michael Conley, 1st Special Operations Wing commander. "These updated capabilities provide them the most modernized gunship to date."
The Block 30 AC-130J will fulfill the same mission sets as the Spooky; however, it will cost approximately 1/3 to operate per flying hour due to the upgraded turboprop engines.
"The technology in this 5th generation gunship will ensure our combat relevance in the skies above today's battlefields and the battlefields of the future," Conley said.
The Ghostrider reached initial operational capability in 2017, and the first Block 30 AC-130J will remain in a testing status for approximately one year before it becomes operationally deployable.
"The 4th SOS will start receiving J-qualified crewmembers in the coming months," said Lt. Col. Pete Ventres, 4th SOS commander. "The vast majority of U-model aircrews and maintainers will retrain into the AC-J to ensure we retain already-developed talent."
For now, Air Commandos with the 4th SOS will continue to operate the Spooky until it joins the AC-130H Spectres in retirement by the end of 2020.
"This is a significant milestone in our heritage and the gunship nation," Ventres said. "The AC-130J represents a leap into the future without abandoning the lessons of the past."
While technology continues to advance, the 4th SOS will keep their sights set on their main mission.
"The protection of special operations forces on the ground remains paramount," Ventres said. "The "C" in CAS stands for "Close," and when we're needed, that's where you'll find us."