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Thread: US Air Force hones future gunship plans (Replace AC-130)

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    US Air Force hones future gunship plans (Replace AC-130)

    JANE'S DEFENCE WEEKLY - SEPTEMBER 01, 2004

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    US Air Force hones future gunship plans
    MICHAEL SIRAK JDW Staff Reporter
    Washington, DC

    The US Air Force (USAF) is moving ahead with plans to develop next-generation platforms to replace its current fleet of AC-130 gunships from 2018, according to service officials.

    The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) told JDW that it is considering two paths to replace the AC-130s: a manned, stealthy and survivable aircraft; or a family of unmanned platforms with the same capabilities. The command now refers to these successor capabilities as the Persistent Surface Attack System of Systems (PSAS). These options emerged during the air force-sponsored analysis of alternatives that was completed in April 2003.

    A manned gunship platform would probably emerge from work the service is doing on a future medium-sized, stealthy modular aircraft that could be configured for multiple roles such as a cargo jet, special operations insertion platform or aerial refuelling aircraft. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are already pursuing concepts under their respective Blended Wing Body and MACK initiatives. There is also the potential for growing synergy between the PSAS and a next-generation bomber, according to AFSOC.

    While the command's current concept for the latter option employs a constellation of three unmanned combat aircraft, it said it is continuing to study what would be the optimum number, noting that "two, five or 10 might be more cost-effective".

    Lt Col Dave Shelikoff of AFSOC's test technology planning department said the command wants the PSAS, regardless of the option chosen, to loiter for extended periods over the battlefield and be able to apply force rapidly, precisely and discriminately. Directed-energy lasers and microwave systems are included in the weapons mix, but in later spirals.

    The command says it also wants the PSAS to be able to operate independent of other platforms if required, but also to have the communications and sensor linkage to function seamlessly with other aircraft and ground assets in a network-centric (net-centric) warfighting environment.

    AFSOC's initial developmental efforts will focus on three areas: a precision-guided weapon; an organic unmanned aerial vehicle to increase the PSAS's stand-off range and provide electro-optical coverage under clouds and weather or down 'urban canyons'; and a Common Operation Picture and Control system to reduce the number of operators needed for the PSAS and tie it to the nascent Global Information Grid that the US is pursuing to enable netcentric activities.

    The command may incorporate these three capabilities into the AC-130U and other aircraft over the next decade before the PSAS comes along, said Col Shelikoff.

    The air force is interested in mounting the Active Denial System (ADS) millimetre-wave directed-energy weapon on a future C-130-like aircraft for less-than-lethal special operations roles. A smaller, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle-mounted version is already in development.

    The ADS, like all directed-energy weapons, will require megawatts (mW) of power to operate from an airborne platform. In this case, the USAF wants to design a lightweight and compact power system - a generator coupled with a turbine engine - that can produce 5MW of electricity at sea level to drive the microwave system, said Col JoAnn Erno, chief of the Power Division within the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

    Col Erno told JDW that the AFRL intends to award a contract to industry around the end of September to develop a multi-MW superconducting generator under its Multi-megawatt Electric Power System programme. The goal is to get the total weight of the generator-engine pair down to around 2,000 lb (907kg) an order of magnitude reduction over conventional power systems, she said.

    The AFRL would like to conduct a ground demonstration of a 1MW generator in Fiscal Year 2007, followed by a test by the end of 2009 of a system capable of producing at least 4mW of electricity. Flight demonstrations of the generator-engine system are envisaged early in the next decade, Col Erno said.

    Because the ADS is about 60% efficient at best in its use of electricity, it will produce a tremendous amount of heat that will require new approaches to thermal management, she noted.

    AC-130s get video datalink

    The US Air Force continues to enhance its AC-130 gunships as it proceeds with plans to develop capabilities to replace them in coming decades. The AC-130s have seen extensive use since late 2001 in Afghanistan and Iraq, including most recently during the anti-insurgency operations in Najaf.

    One initiative already under way is to incorporate a target video datalink on all AC-130s to allow troops on the ground to view the sensor video that the gunship crews use to identify and track targets. This will "dramatically" improve the time to engage time-sensitive targets and also mitigate fratricide incidents, according to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).

    The desire for the capability arose from warfighters in the field through a combat mission needs statement.

    The command operates eight AC-130H Spectre and 13 newer and more capable AC-130U Spooky gunships. The command is also adding four AC-130Us to the fleet via C-130 conversions that are under way.

    The US Congress also provided $8.5 million in Fiscal Year 2005 Defence Appropriations Act for a demonstration of the AC-130 with a 'Protector UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle]'. An explanation of this demonstration was not available from AFSOC as JDW went to press, other than the language in the act that says it should include a Tactical Common Datalink communications suite for real-time video capability.

    The air force, however, has said it would like to integrate the operations of the AC-130 more closely with UAVs. Video feeds from MQ-1 Predators can already be fed directly into the AC-130s for better situational awareness of targets.
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    But what a fool believes, he sees
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  2. #2
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    interesting
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    scary lookin. looks like they are hunkering down for decades of GOAT(global war on terror).

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    Talking

    Q: How do you make the concept of the AC-130 even scarier?

    A: Give it a big freakin "laser"!

    But what a fool believes, he sees
    No wise man has the power to reason away

    -The Doobie Brothers

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    I dont know where they are gonna get the money for all this..i mean under air mobility they have the ATT and now this plus the lessons learned report will recommend certain things as well..i think that we should soop up the current ac-130's and use this developmental money to either buy more stuff or spend it on things that we currently need such as buying more f/a-22's into UCAV's/UAV's and developing newer weapons as well as into the e-10 m2ca and the SBR which barely survived this year.
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    Quote Originally Posted by Indian1973
    scary lookin. looks like they are hunkering down for decades of GOAT(global war on terror).

    I don't think that's the reason...remember the C-130 & KC-135 are both 50 years old. They've got to go sometime.

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    The first pic looks like it's from the game Halo...
    Some of the real life concepts that are hatched in the bowels of the US mil-ind complex are far far better than any photoshop job out there in internet land.
    But what a fool believes, he sees
    No wise man has the power to reason away

    -The Doobie Brothers

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    yes they have to go but why go so radical..why not modify the c-130 with modern equipments (beyond J)...i will agree with the need for tanker replacement cuz there are so many problems with age being one of them..i think the latest study showed that if we start to replace the kc-135's from 2007 the oldest ones will go on till they are 90 years old before they are replaced or something like that.
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    i also posted some LMA designs in the a-400 page
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    If by radical, you mean the stealthiness, that's because of the applications calls for specop insertion and battlefield persistence. Both applications puts the platform at greater susceptibility hence the LO design to mitigate the greater susceptibility.
    But what a fool believes, he sees
    No wise man has the power to reason away

    -The Doobie Brothers

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    i think that it would cost a ton of money to develop such a system,money which might be better spent elsewhere
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    perhaps a tricked up C17 airframe with new low-n-slow turboprops (AN70 style) is what could get job done? since these guys need to go in close and pound the living crap out of Sadr type people the value of radar stealth is kinda superflous...they need to be agile and well equipped to evade IR manpads.

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    There's always better things to spend money on but tactical transport, inflight refueling, joint operations, etc are the foundations of any air force. The foundation has to be kept strong and relevant or else the money spent on the geewiz stuff like the F/A-22 and stuff won't matter too much.
    But what a fool believes, he sees
    No wise man has the power to reason away

    -The Doobie Brothers

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    i agree that it needs to be done but what i dont understand is from where is the money gonna come..the DOD budget is allready quite high and i dont see a significant increase in that comming any time other then the steady gradual increase..sometimes when i think of all that money we need to spend on air mobility i always think that we need to cut down on this expeditionary stuff (not that we are gonna)
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    KC-X Advanced Mobility Aircraft


    The KC-X is a proposed new tanker aircraft. Corrosion is impacting the ability of the Air Force to accurately predict the KC-135 service life to allow timely force decisions. If possible, Air Mobility Command will retain the KC-135 through at least a 56 year service life, and its replacement, the KC-X, should be ready to enter the inventory by FY2013. An ongoing study which is critical to future KC-135/KC-X decisions is the Tanker Requirements Study—TRS-05. The requirement defined by TRS-05 based on the Mobility Requirements Study for the year 2005 [MRS-05] results, combined with the results of a parallel KC-135 Extended Life Study, are inputs into the Air Refueling Analysis of Alternatives conducted in 2001 to give a first look at the KC-X solution.

    The primary mission of the KC-X concept is the strategic tanker mission using a fuselage mounted “flying boom” and multi-point hose/drogue systems. As a strategic airlifter, the concept can deliver over-sized military equipment into bare bases while providing performance comparable to modern commercial airliners. The modular medium transport concept uses major structural and system components from the KC-X to reduce life cycle cost. The medium transport is designed to deliver over-sized military cargo into bare bases while providing flight performance comparable to commercial transports. The concept is fully airdrop capable and can operate from short, soft soil fields at reduced take-off weights.

    In military use, Advanced Mobility Aircraft will be able to perform airlift and tanker missions through the use of integrated modular tanker systems. This will allow the use of one airframe, with the resulting logistics and operational advantages, to fulfill AMC airlift, airdrop, and air refueling missions. In the airlift role, the AMA can carry all the equipment of the Army's light divisions over a 4,000 NM range. The aircraft can airdrop more than 150 paratroops or two 60,000 pound airdrop loads. For tanker missions, the aircraft can exceed the fuel offload of the KC-135R while retaining its basic airlift capability.

    The aircraft will also be an effective member of USAF Air Expeditionary Forces (AEFs) by providing strategic lift for deployments, tanker support in theater, and as a multi-mission aircraft for other AEF requirements. Modular airframe and systems design will allow low cost development of derivative vehicles for a variety of missions including reconnaissance and surveillance, electronic combat, rescue, special operations, global attack with future long-range stand-off weapons, and as a 'mother-ship' for advanced UAVs.

    The Senate FY2004 defense authorization bill included a requirement for an analysis of alternatives (AOA) to the lease as well as other legislative provisions intended to examine its merits. Air Force Air Mobility Command and Defense Department studies specifically require that the Air Force conduct an AOA. Yet in hearings, the Under Secretary of the Defense for Acquisition, the Air Force Secretary and the Air Force Secretary for Acquisition testified that they have not completed an AOA on aerial tankers during 2003.



    Last edited by bring_it_on; 3rd September 2004 at 19:05.
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    Why not use the C-27 or the Osprey, the original concept of the gunship was to provide fire support to troops on the ground and have the capability to loiter in the combat area. Would a jet be less likely to be able to stay in the area for an extended period of time. What is your take on this.

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    i think with some more mods the ac-130 should be good for some time for the kind of role the AF uses it.
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    Agreed ! And remember there is still the C-130-J which can be used as an AC-130.

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    Use the C-130J

    I agree that they shoudl just continue to use the c-130 family for the gunship conversion. What they should think about is mounting several laser desiginators on board and use the copperhead arteliry shells for true pin point accuracy. I would also suggest mounting 2 of the Predator conrtol stations on board so they could use the Ac-130's in conjunction with say 2 armed Preadators , think of how deadly and powerful that combo would be. And how much area they could monitor. Use the Pred B version and you have the potential to carry 8 hellfires each. Perfect for fighing the terrorists in the streets.

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    I agree that putting a couple of Predator control stations on a AC-130 would make the combination highly effective in the war against terror. Maybe the Euro Corps should consider something similar with the upcoming A400M.

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    is a gunship out of the a-400M even planned....in a net-centric enviroment wouldnt the ac-130 be able to use the predator or any other strike platform by just accecing force net or something like that..therefore taking out the need for special integration..the same way a commander on the feild can access the network and carry out a strike attack on a target with the quickest available asset.
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    Sea bass with freakin lasers. Should come in under cost and on time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lawstud
    Agreed ! And remember there is still the C-130-J which can be used as an AC-130.

    They will probably find out that the vibration from firing off the 105 will shut down the civilian avionics on board.

    AC-130 as mentioned is already a fearsome netcentric killer, including working with just about everything else at night too: Apaches, fixed wing strikers etc. Be even more scary as part of a netcentric node for A-45/47 UCAV.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ELP
    They will probably find out that the vibration from firing off the 105 will shut down the civilian avionics on board.

    AC-130 as mentioned is already a fearsome netcentric killer, including working with just about everything else at night too: Apaches, fixed wing strikers etc. Be even more scary as part of a netcentric node for A-45/47 UCAV.
    Not to mention the vibration effects of the props.

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    Cost will be a major factor. I have heard it said that an AC-130 is the single most expensive aircraft there is. Is that actually the case ?

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    AC-130 is the single most expensive aircraft there is. Is that actually the case ?
    no, not the most expensive. Both versions still flying cost less than $100 Million.

    B-2s are much more.
    B-1B are much more
    and F-22s are much more

    AC-130H/U are not cheap, but are well worth it in my books.

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    I remember someone from the C-17 SPO here at Wright-Patt talking about an AC-17 a a few years ago,but didn't really have any details other then the Air force was looking into in,and if it did come online,it wouldn't be for awhile.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bring_it_on
    I dont know where they are gonna get the money for all this..i mean under air mobility they have the ATT and now this plus the lessons learned report will recommend certain things as well...
    Maybe they dont need to find money, because pictures in post no. 1 shows exactly ATT concepts On the right is original Lockheed Advanced Theater Transport proposal (as competitor to Boeing´s ATT SuperFrog) and on the left is tanker derivate. This means that it was proposed as multimodular aircraft capable of many different missions. However Lockheed MACK/BMACK was also designed with this philosophy, but unfortunatelly I still cant imagine it as gunship platform. Crazy idea.

    The genesis of the European UCAV
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    Most of this wont take off , would be interesting to see what thois multi modular aircraft would cost when all they really need is a new class of next gen. tanker and keep on modifying the Ac-130 gunship .
    Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies

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    A little searching on the net has revealed from various sources that the last lot of AC-130U cost about $190million each So yes, I guess cost will be a factor

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