Unbelievable Journey After Almost 60 Years in the Flight, US Air Force Special Operator Takes Their AC-130 Gunship to Australia for the First Time!

In an unprecedented move, the US Air Force deployed its state-of-the-art AC-130J gunship to Australia for a strategic exercise in July, marking the gunship’s first appearance in Australian skies since its introduction nearly 60 years ago in the 1960s. The AC-130 holds significant importance for ground forces and is currently undergoing upgrades to maintain its relevance in modern warfare.

Ranked: World’s Most Powerful Air Forces in 2023

The world's most powerful air forces in 2023, ranked

Global Firepower has ranked 145 nations based on the strength of their air force fleets.

Some nations have outperformed or lagged in comparison to their overall military prowess.

Here’s a look at the top 25 most powerful air forces in the world for 2023.

Global Firepower’s 2023 military rankings also encompass air force strength evaluations for 145 countries.

The evaluation considers the inventory of helicopters, fighter jets, interceptors, bombers, transport planes, and various other aircraft within each country’s air force.

Certain countries have seen significant shifts in their rankings when compared to their overall military strength standing on the Global Firepower list for the year.

During late July and early August, a record-breaking multinational military exercise known as Talisman Sabre took place in Australia, involving troops from 13 nations, including the United States.

Participating in Exercise Teak Action, staged in south-eastern Australia in early July

However, ahead of this year’s largest-ever edition of Talisman Sabre, US special operators brought their most advanced and prized aircraft to the Australian terrain.

Participating in Exercise Teak Action, staged in south-eastern Australia in early July, US Air Force special operators accomplished a historic feat by flying their AC-130 gunship in Australian airspace. This momentous event marked the AC-130’s first appearance in Australia since its introduction in the 1960s.

US airmen oversee the 105mm cannon on an AC-130J during live-fire training alongside Australian Army special forces soldiers in New South Wales in July. Australian Air Force/Corporal Cameron Pegg

While stationed in Australia, Air Commandos from the US Air Force Special Operations Command’s 23rd Special Tactics Squadron teamed up with their AC-130Js for dry-fire rehearsals. These operations were meticulously coordinated with US and Australian Combat Control teams on the ground.

US Air Force deployed its state-of-the-art AC-130J gunship to Australia

Guided by US Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) and Australian Forward Air Control-Airborne (FAC-A) specialists, the AC-130 gunships engaged in training simulations to test their precision and collaborative capabilities.

Throughout the exercise, both US and Australian forces enhanced their interoperability, fostering their ability to execute rapid-response operations within the Indo-Pacific region.

Wing Commander Steven Duffy, commander of the Australian Air Force’s 4 Squadron, emphasized that the exercise facilitated ‘formation flying, landing zone survey, and close air support training that maintains our interoperability.’

Duffy further stated, ‘We’ve learned about the capability of the aircraft and the support framework required for the aircraft to base in Australia and project throughout the region.’

Since its inception in the late 1960s, the various iterations of the AC-130, with the latest AC-130J ‘Ghostrider’ deployed in 2019, have witnessed action across Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. Notably, in 2021, the gunship expanded its operational boundaries by making its debut appearances in Japan and Romania.

 the latest AC-130J 'Ghostrider' deployed in 2019

Although this Australian deployment marked the AC-130’s premiere in the region, future circumstances might lead to its permanent presence, particularly in the face of escalating tensions with China.

Central to its role are close air support, air interdiction, and armed reconnaissance. Effectively, the AC-130 functions as an aerial artillery platform, hovering above its target and delivering pinpoint cannon fire and precision munitions.

However, the AC-130 is optimally suited for theaters where the US and its allies maintain air supremacy, given its substantial size and comparatively modest speed, making it susceptible to counterattacks.

AC-130 gunship holds a special place in the hearts of ground troops

Coupled with other close air support aircraft like the iconic A-10 Warthog, the AC-130 gunship holds a special place in the hearts of ground troops. Its ability to linger over targets, expansive armament, and demonstrated precision have cemented its indispensability in combat missions.

A former Army Green Beret officer, requesting anonymity due to ongoing government work, shared, ‘When it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you’re in some field in the middle of nowhere going after some bad guy, and you hear that low humming from the [AC-130] gunship above you, you feel a sense of security that it’s hard to convey in words.’

Missiles, USA, the airfield, AGM-114, MQ-1

Across its five-decade history, the US Air Force has operated six iterations of the gunship — AC-130A, AC-130E, AC-130H, AC-130U, AC130W, and AC-130J. The AC-130J boasts a formidable arsenal, including 30mm and 105mm cannons, alongside a variety of intelligent munitions such as the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, GBU-69 Small Glide Munition, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and AGM-176 Griffin missiles.

Nevertheless, the AC-130 faces new challenges in conflicts against formidable adversaries. The uncontested air superiority enjoyed by the US military in previous wars, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot be taken for granted against the likes of Russia or China.

Consequently, the Air Force is revamping its AC-130 fleet with enhanced countermeasures and sensors to heighten survivability and contributions to modern battlegrounds. The introduction of airborne lasers, cruise missiles, and other stand-off munitions is under exploration to equip the AC-130 for anticipated conflicts characterized by extended operational ranges.

Over six decades after its maiden combat flights above Southeast Asian jungles, the US Air Force remains committed to ensuring that the AC-130 gunship continues to play a pivotal role in its arsenal of special operations.

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