by DAVID AXE
The Marines have always envied the Air Force’s two dozen AC-130 gunships — which, with their accurate guns and long loiter times, count as some of the deadliest weapons in U.S. wars. This spring, the Marines decided to buy nine kits for their KC-130J tanker-transports, each kit comprising Hellfire and Viper Strike missiles and bolt-on sensors — with a door gun, optional. The result, code-named Harvest Hawk, turns a tanker into a gunship, in just four hours, on the cheap.
Now the twist: the Air Force has struggled for years to build a new gunship to replace the AC-130s, which average more than 20 years old. The AC-X gunship concept went nowhere. The AC-XX “gunship lite” program, meant to turn the twin-engine C-27J transport into a small gunship, apparently died this year, when the Pentagon cut the C-27J program in half. So now the Air Force is borrowing the Harvest Hawk idea, adding “sensors, communication systems, precision guided munitions and a single medium-caliber gun” to eight MC-130W infiltration transports, pictured, according to budget documents.
This kind of modularity represents the future of air power. Build a basic platform like a C-130, and add kits — and extra crew — for the gunship, tanker and other roles, as needed.
(Photo: Air Force)
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