US Air Force 353rd Special Operations Group AC-130J Ghostrider
US Air Force 353rd Special Operations Group AC-130J Ghostrider

US Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider Gunship Live-fire Drills to Cap Off Extended Balikatan Exercise in the Philippines

An Air Force Special Operations AC-130J Ghostrider gunship is set to end this month’s Balikatan drills in the Philippines with a bang. The gunship will participate in close air support training at Crow Valley Military Reservation, a live-fire range north of Clark Air Base on the island of Luzon. It will involve a gunship from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Fla., airmen from the 353rd Special Operations Group from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and Philippine joint terminal attack controllers from 710th Special Operations Wing.

Simulated Close Air Support Rehearsal
U.S. and Philippine Airmen prepare for the Simulated Close Air Support rehearsal to begin at Col. Ernesto Ravina Air Base, Crow Valley Military Reservation, Capas, Tarlac, Ph., April 16, 2021 as part of Exercise Balikatan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylea Berry)

The Special Operations airmen are among 225 U.S. service members who have been training with 736 Philippine troops during the annual Balikatan exercise, which kicked off April 12. The airmen and their Philippine counterparts have been at Crow Valley practicing procedures to call for close air support but will advance to live-fire training with the gunship. The training will take place during a five-day window starting Saturday. Balikatan officially wraps up Friday but the live-fire close air support training was delayed due to a mechanical issue.

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Simulated Close Air Support Rehearsal
A U.S. Air Force Airman with 320th Special Tactics Squadron uses a marker and protractor to plot on the map where the drops are called during the Simulated Close Air Support rehearsal at Col. Ernesto Ravina Air Base, Crow Valley Military Reservation, Capas, Tarlac

AC-130J Ghostrider, a modified version of the MC-130J aircraft, is expected to replace the legacy AC-130H/U aircraft of the US Air Force. The first test flight of the AC-130J Ghostrider was completed in January 2014. The Air Force Special Operations Command received the first Ghostrider for operational testing in July 2015. Lockheed Martin will deliver 37 AC-130J Ghostrider aircraft to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) by 2021. The total investment for the AC-130J Ghostrider programme is estimated to reach $2.4bn.

Simulated Close Air Support Rehearsal
A FA-50PH flies over Col. Ernesto Ravina Air Base, Crow Valley Military Reservation, Capas, Tarlac, Ph., during a bilateral simulated close air support rehearsal, April 16, 2021 as part of Ex-ercise Balikatan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kaylea Berry)

The AC-130J is fitted with an AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver, AN/AAR-47 (V) 2 missile warning system, and AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system for reduced susceptibility. The armament kits under the PSP include a 30mm GAU-23 automatic side firing chain gun, a 105mm cannon, and Standoff Precision Guided Munitions (SOPGM) comprising wing-mounted GBU-39 small diameter bombs and AGM-176 Griffin laser-guided missiles. The internally mounted missiles can be launched through the rear cargo door.

US Air Force 353rd Special Operations Group AC-130J Ghostrider
An Airman from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron marshals an AC-130J Ghostrider to its parking location after landing at Kadena Air Base on March 29, 2021. Regularly stationed at Hurlburt Field, Florida, this is the first time the updated J model of the AC-130 has landed or operated in Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Renee Douglas)
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