A Spookier Spooky, 30mm at a Time? Nope.
In 2006 GD was contracted to repackage A-10 ammo for AC-130 Gunships. As is so often the case, there’s a story behind the story. The USA’s fearsome AC-130U “Spooky” Hercules gunships were having their old 40mm Bofors cannons and 25mm GAU-12 gatling guns removed, and replaced with ATK’s 30mm MK44 autocannons.
It didn’t go very well. In the end, accuracy and operational needs trumped standardization, and the 40mm and 25mm guns had to go back in…
The same modifications were planned for the AC-130H “Specter” fleet, for the same reasons: maintenance issues, and gun/ammunition compatibility and variety. A USAF Air Force Link article explains:
“The aging 40 mm Bofors cannon, which has been around in various guises since World War II, is increasingly hard to maintain, Colonel Gottstine said, and there is no production line set up to replace shrinking ammunition stocks. While the 25 mm gun is newer, he said, “it is a maintenance hog as far as the amount of money and time we spend maintaining the ammo handling system.” In addition, because no other Air Force aircraft use the 25 mm cannon, no one is working on developing new types of ammunition that could be effective for gunship operations, he said.
The Bushmaster cannon, on the other hand, will arm the Marine Corps’ new amphibious assault vehicle, is installed on some Navy ships and is being looked at for uses in other capacities. Because of that, “the services are developing a lot of variations of 30 mm ammo…”
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go according to plan. The Specters never switched, and the Spookys got their reversions back to earlier calibers. That meant replacing the guns, and the Ammunition Storage and Handling Systems, which can feed up to 3,000 rounds to the 25mm cannon inside the aircraft’s cargo hold.
Meanwhile, US SOCOM found another interesting new option: arming some C-130H Hercules medium tactical transports as the MC-130W Combat Spear, a combined transport and precision close support plane. MC-130Ws have a lot less firepower than the AC-130U, due to their reliance on missiles instead of guns, but they help fill a gap. As SOCOM plans its future AC-130Js, lessons from its Combat Spear conversions, and its AC-130U gun switch, will both help to inform the command’s future plans.
Contracts & Key Events
While the C-130 is a Lockheed Martin plane, Boeing received the 1987 contract to equip and support the AC-130U Gunship for Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
Boeing’s Fort Walton Beach facility will build the components for delivery to Robins Air Force Base, GA. Platform Readiness and Sustainment manager Chet Gray acknowledges the AC-130U’s heavy workload, and says that “supporting this hardworking aircraft is in the DNA of the Fort Walton Beach sustainment team.”
Dec 19/11: Boeing in Fort Walton Beach, FL receives a $10.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 5 major subassemblies (conveyor assembly, loader/downloader, magazine transfer unit, magazine driver gearbox, and the gun drive gearbox), required to build up 6 AC-130U 25 mm ammunition storage handling systems assemblies. Work is expected to be complete by Jan 31/14. The USAF Global Logistics Support Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA manages the contract (FA8520-12-D-0003).
Oct 24/11: Boeing in Fort Walton Beach, FL receives an $11.1 million firm-fixed-price contract for spares. They will also provide 5 major subassemblies (conveyor assembly, loader/downloader, magazine transfer unit, magazine driver gearbox, and the gun drive gearbox), required to build up 6 AC-130U 25 mm ammunition storage handling systems assemblies. The USAF Global Logistics Support Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA manages the contract (FA8520-12-D-0003).
July 12/10: Boeing in Fort Walton Beach, FL received a $7 million contract to “support the 40mm gun requirement for the AC-130 Plus Four program.” In other words, to add 40mm guns back on to the 4 converted AC-130Us. At this time, $1.2 million has been committed by the 782nd CBSG/GBKAA at Robins Air Force Base, GA (FA8520-10-D-0010).
A Sept 2/10 Boeing release clarifies that the contract covers spare servo-actuators for the AC-130U gunship. The release places the entire 5-year contract’s value at $7.2 million. Under the initial $1.2 million order, Boeing will provide 10 servo-actuators for the Trainable Gun Mount Systems needed to install 40-millimeter guns on 4 AC-130Us. Boeing’s Special Operations Forces subdivision will perform this work by July 2011, in Fort Walton Beach, FL. Boeing’s Fort Walton Beach site employs approximately 500 people.
July 25/08: Accuracy trumps ammo. Aviation Week’s Ares and David Axe report that the 30mm guns have proven “operationally unsuitable” due to unsatisfactory gunfire accuracy. AFSOC is adding the 40mm and 25mm weapons back to the 4 AC-130Us delivered with the 30mm gun configuration.
Feb 1/07: Crews at Hurlburt Field, FL have put the finishing touches on the first AC-130U Spooky gunship armed with the 30 mm Bushmaster cannon, instead of its previous 25mm and 40mm guns. USAF.
Sept 15/06: General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactics Systems in Marion, IL receives a $9.2 million firm-fixed-price, performance-based hybrid services contract. They will procure ammunition links, clips and the necessary packaging material to assemble and re-package HEI 30mm cannon ammunition from the current packaging configuration for the A-10 “Warthog” close air support fighter into linked and clipped configurations in support of the Air Force Special Operations Command’s AC-130H “Specter” and AC-130U “Spooky” gunships.
Solicitations began July 2006, negotiations were complete August 2006, and work will be complete August 2007. The Headquarters Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, UT issued the contract (FA8213-06-C-0105)
- DID – The Right to Bear Arms: Gunship Kits for America’s C-130s. The 30mm gun idea did find new life, as a roll-on kit upgrade for US Marine Corps KC-130J tankers, and SOCOM’s new MC-130W “Combat Spear” C-130H derivatives.