USAF Scraps Plan to Mount Laser Weapon on AC-130J Gunship

The US Air Force (USAF) has canceled its already-troubled plan to integrate a high-energy laser weapon on an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship.

A spokesman for Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) told that the Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL) experienced technical difficulties during a recent open-air ground test.

These difficulties have reportedly caused the weapon to miss its available integration and flight test window, thereby ending hopes for much-awaited operations on the Ghostrider.

The spokesperson did not specifically disclose the technical issues experienced but said the AHEL was still able to accomplish significant end-to-end high-power operation.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense’s budget request for 2025 did not include funding for the airborne laser because the program was expected to close out this year.

AHEL’s Future

The AFSOC spokesperson clarified the service is not canceling the entire AHEL program but will only reassess its plans for the weapon system.

He said the laser will continue to undergo ground testing to improve its reliability and prepare for “a successful hand-off for use by other agencies.”

This could mean that the laser weapon may become part of a different directed energy effort, such as the Self-Protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program.

Unlike the original initiative to deploy the weapon on a gunship, the SHiELD program would mount a laser weapon on a fighter jet to defeat incoming threats.

A Troubled Project

In 2021, USAF received a 60-watt AHEL weapon from Lockheed Martin to take down enemy assets from the AC-130J aircraft.

It was supposed to become the US military’s first operational aerial laser weapon.

However, AFSOC announced in November 2023 that it was postponing the official deployment of the weapon due to delays in flight testing.

Although no reason was provided at the time, speculation surfaced that the USAF found the integration more complicated than expected.

Related Articles

Back to top button