The top brass in the U.S. Air Force wants to put laser weapons on ground-attack aircraft.
Speaking at a conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, the head of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, said he wanted to explore the possibility of outfitting an AC-130 Ghostrider aircraft with laser weapons.
What he didn’t say was whether the airborne laser would be powered by chemical or electric energy?
The Ghostrider is a heavily armed ground-attack aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The gunship is designed so that weapons are fired from a single side. By circling stationary targets, the aircraft can sustain persistent fire for an extended period of time.
The AC-130 flying gunship fleet is one of the most fabled and feared assets in the entire USAF inventory. Known for its ability to unleash a broadside of cannon fire in the dead of night, the newest of the AC-130 lot is more about smart bombs than raining lead and howitzer shells down on the enemy.
The Air Force spent about $4.3 billion pursuing airborne lasers that could destroy ballistic missiles between 1994 and 2007, according to theCongressional Research Service. In particular, the Air Force focused primarily on chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) systems, which could be mounted in the aft section of a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. Northrop Grumman was the key company leading the COIL effort.
In 2009, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates killed the Air Force’s airborne laser program as part of an effort to reduce spending and reform the military’s acquisition process.
Unlike the chemically-powered lasers pursued by the Air Force, the U.S. Navy has focused on electrically powered lasers. The latter have proven to be far more successful than the former. In December, the Navy completed the first successful deployment of an electrically-powered laser weapon system aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf.