Ok, the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship isn’t technically a shark, but it is a fearsome aircraft, and it’s about to get a whole lot fearsomer.
This month, Lockheed Martin announced that the U.S. Air Force will begin testing their new Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL) weapon aboard AC-130J Ghostrider gunships within the next year or so.
This new 60-kilowatt laser weapon will be able to take out targets from miles away without the bad guys ever knowing what hit them. Let’s say you want to melt the tires off a truck, or detonate a pile of munitions.
The AHEL has no sound and no visible beam, which allows it to cause problems for the enemy without directly implicating U.S. Forces.
Fire? What fire?
The AHEL won’t replace the destructive power of 150mm cannons or precision-guided munitions, but it will open up a slew of awesome capabilities.
The Air Force refers to the new AHEL’s ability to damage targets as “scalable effects,” meaning it could be used for something fairly small and innocuous like starting a little fire in an inconvenient place to perhaps disabling communications antennae without any sort of explosion, and not a trace of from where it came.
Lt. Gen. Marshall “Brad” Webb, the former commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, described his vision for the system in 2017:
“Without the slightest bang, whoosh, thump, explosion, or even aircraft engine hum, four key targets are permanently disabled. The enemy has no communications, no escape vehicle, no electrical power and no retaliatory intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. Minutes later, the team emerges from the compound, terrorist mastermind in hand. A successful raid.”
Bear in mind, the fifth-generation Ghostrider is already a formidable weapon. The fully-strapped gunship is equipped with 30mm and 105mm cannons and can support a range of guided munitions, from a relatively modest AGM-176 Griffin missile to a 250-pound GBU-39 small diameter bomb.
But the AHEL will allow the Ghostrider to do its damage a little more… shall we say…discreetly.
Of course, the laser still has to pass its ground and flight testing. And there’s no word from the Air Force or Lockheed Martin regarding whether the weapon would be effective when used against people.
But one can’t help but admire the ingenuity that would allow an AC-130J to blow someone up without warning using a silent, invisible laser system.