MAUI HAWAII FIRE OVER 100 DEAD: DID A LASER ARMED MARINE AC-130 SPECTRE GUNSHIP CAUSE THE FIRES!?!
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The AC-130J Gunship’s First Solid State Laser Weapon Has Arrived For Testing
The laser system could offer the already super versatile AC-130J a new way to covertly destroy and disable critical targets.
BYTHOMAS NEWDICK AND JOSEPH TREVITHICK|UPDATED OCT 8, 2021 3:56 PM EDT
The U.S. Air Force has taken delivery of the first prototype Airborne High Energy Laser, or AHEL, which is set to be flight tested on one of its AC-130J Ghostrider gunships next year. The service hopes to demonstrate the feasibility of adding this directed-energy weapon to the AC-130J's already very diverse arsenal, which could give these aircraft a unique capability to engage ground targets silently and stealthily.
Lockheed Martin confirmed yesterday that it had completed factory acceptance testing for the AHEL and then turned the weapon over to the Air Force. The laser will now need to be integrated together with a beam control system, after which ground testing will take place ahead of the installation of the complete weapon system onto an AC-130J.
An artist's conception depicting an older AC-130U gunship armed with a laser weapon system., USAF
“Completion of this milestone is a tremendous accomplishment for our customer,” said Rick Cordaro, vice president, Lockheed Martin Advanced Product Solutions. “These mission success milestones are a testament of our partnership with the U.S. Air Force in rapidly achieving important advances in laser weapon system development. Our technology is ready for fielding today.”
Under a January 2019 contract, Lockheed Martin has been working to integrate, test, and demonstrate the new directed-energy weapon on the AC-130J, according to the company press release, which also noted that it’s now "on a rapid schedule to continue testing this capability." The entire project is a joint service effort, and, in July of this year, Lockheed Martin's Aculight Corporation division received a new $12 million, five-year contract award from the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWC Dahlgren) for technical services, integration, test, and demonstration of the AHEL.
Exactly when flight testing of an AC-130J armed with the AHEL might begin is unclear, but U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has consistently said it expects to kick off this phase of the project in Fiscal Year 2022, which began this month.
As for the power rating of the AHEL, Lockheed Martin's press release does not say, but, again, SOCOM has repeatedly said it will be in the 60-kilowatt class. This would be in line with Lockheed Martin's own statements that this airborne directed energy weapon is in “the same class” as the HELIOS laser weapon it is supplying to the U.S. Navy, which also helps explain the service's involvement in this effort.
A slide covering AC-130J laser weapon project that U.S. Special Operations Command released in May 2021., SOCOM
Previous reports have said that HELIOS, which stands for High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance, is in the 60-kilowatt class but have also said that the manufacturer has been looking to increase its power to the 150-kilowatt class. Other sources have suggested that HELIOS has a rating closer to 100 kilowatts. You can read more about the Navy’s plans for HELIOS in this previous story of ours.
An artist’s concept of the Lockheed Martin HELIOS naval laser system. , Lockheed Martin
Even without the AHEL, the AC-130J has an expansive arsenal.
However, an operational high-energy laser weapon would be a valuable addition to these existing options, providing it works as advertised. A weapon of this kind could defeat a variety of different targets and do so in a way that opponents might not even know they're under attack until it's too late.
In one scenario described to National Defense magazine by Lieutenant General Brad Webb, then the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), an AC-130J armed with a high-energy laser could be used to pick out and destroy an electrical transformer, the engine of a pick-up truck and start fires.