One of the most unique military aircraft based in the Gulf Coast region is the AC-130 gunship of the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Fla. The gunship is held in high-esteem by ground troops for its ability to provide a heavy-fisted pounding to ground targets as it circles in the air. The largest gun in its arsenal is 105mm cannon. It's like a flying tank.
But that classic configuration was altered in later models, and now the head of the command, Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, has decided the new model of the gunship, the AC-130J, should have the 105mm instead of relying on missiles for precision weaponry. He also wants to slow the rate of retirement of older AC-130s.
He says he won’t be able to maintain 37 AC-130s in service, but he wants to freeze the number at 26, which would include 14 AC-130Us and 12 AC-130Ws. The remaining Vietnam-era AC-130H Spectres will go away.
The U model, or Spooky, is the version that includes the 105mm. The W model, or Stinger II, is a new type gunship with smart missiles and small diameter bombs, but no gun heavier than 30mm. The J model, Ghostrider, was originally supposed to enter service looking a lot like the Stinger, but with room and enough power to mount the 105mm at some later point. Heithold wants to make that later point now.
Heithold says the 105mm is more accurate and cheaper than firing small diameter bombs. In addition, Heithold thinks the technology is mature enough that laser or directed energy weapons should be considered for gunships. For two good reads on the gunship and the issue of its firepower, take a look at last month's Breaking Defense or DefenseTech.
Now here's your week in review:
Three contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, during the week related to the F-35. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity for all three awards.
In one, the company was awarded a $39.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract for procurement of electronic components in support of F-35 aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, international partners and the governments of Israel and Japan. These components are in support of production, sustainment and operations and maintenance requirements resulting from diminishing manufacturing sources. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed in September 2015. (Post)
In another contract, Lockheed was awarded a $16.5 million delivery order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement for the procurement and installation of vehicle management computer retrofit modification kits into designated aircraft that are critical to meeting F-35 requirements. Five percent of the work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Other work sites are in Texas, Utah, North Carolina, Arizona and California and is expected to be completed in August 2016. (Post)
In the third contract, the company was awarded a $14.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract to incorporate Block 3i requirements into the F-35 United States Reprogramming Laboratory, including software upgrade, hardware refresh, end-to-end demonstration and certification and accreditation. Work will be done in Fort Worth, Texas, and Orlando, Fla., and is expected to be completed in June 2016. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center and the F-35 U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory. (Post)
In addition, Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $9.4 million modification to the previously awarded contract is for common recurring sustainment and annualized and non-annualized common depot activation services in support of Low Rate Initial Production Lot VIII F135 propulsion systems. Work will be performed in Hartford and is expected to be completed in April 2017. The contract combines purchase for the Air Force, Navy/Marine Corps and the international partners. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)
The Pentagon's research agency plans its first in-air test to launch satellites from the underside of an F-15 fighter jet from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., later this year. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency plans to begin the initial flight-test phase of its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program (ALASA) in a series of 12 orbital flights that would start in early 2016.
The first three orbital launches are engineering checkout payloads. Under the ALASA military space project, once the F-15 gets to a designated altitude, the rocket releases over the Atlantic Ocean and ignites, carrying its payload into orbit. ALASA’s goal is to make launching small payloads less expensive and more efficient. (Post)
-- Conrad Industries Inc. in Morgan City, La., received the NASA Space Flight Awareness Supplier Award for its work converting NASA’s Pegasus barge. Awardees are chosen based on their production of high-quality products, excellent technical and cost performance, and adherence to schedules. The barge, long used to transport shuttle external tanks for the Space Shuttle program, was lengthened from 260 to 310 feet to accommodate components for the Space Launch System program. The upgraded Pegasus is set to transport the first major SLS hardware from New Orleans to NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., for testing as early as next year. (Post)
The Air Force Research Laboratory's Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., released a solicitation for the Miniature Self Defense Munition Seeker Conceptual Design project. The initiative seeks to develop a conceptual design for the optics and algorithms of an affordable seeker front end for a defensive air-to-air weapon. Researchers tentatively plan to award two separate six-month contracts in April. (Post)
-- A Training Air Wing 5 helicopter from Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., made a hard landing during the week at Spencer Navy Outlying Landing Field in Pace. The helicopter rolled onto its right side while landing. The two pilots exited the helicopter on their own. (Post)
-- The 5th Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field, Fla., has added a new airframe to its list of Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft to train aircrews. The reserve squadron began C-146A Wolfhound formal training unit flights in December at Cannon AFB, N.M. The 49th SOS, a reserve operational squadron that will use the C146A, is scheduled to stand up at Duke Field in the fall. (Post)
This year for the first time, a northwest Florida economic development group was the primary sponsor of the annual Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference in Seattle. Jennifer Conoley, economic development representative for Gulf Power, said the $15,000 sponsorship by Florida’s Great Northwest economic development group was a great way to get in front of the audience. (Post)
South Korea's Asiana Airlines signed a Letter of Intent with Airbus for the purchase of 25 A321neo single aisle aircraft as part of its ongoing fleet modernization program. Asiana will make a decision on its engine of choice for the aircraft at a later date. The A320 assembly line in Mobile, Ala., will open this year. Its first aircraft to be delivered in 2016 will be an A321ceo. (Post)
-- Airbus Defense and Space Inc., Herndon, Va., was awarded a $220.6 million modification to a contract to procure 41 72A Lakota Helicopters to include forty-one Airborne Radio Communications 231 Radios. Work will be performed Columbus, Miss. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Ala. is the contracting activity. (Post)
OASIS System LLC, Lexington, Mass., and COLSA Corp., of Huntsville, Ala., each was awarded $23.7 million modifications to previous contracts to provide additional diverse non-engineering, technical and acquisition management support services already being provided under the basic contract. Work will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be completed by July 31, 2015. Air Force Test Center, Eglin Air Force Base, is the contracting activity for both contracts.