U.S. Special Operations Command wants to make the Lockheed Martin [LMT] AC-130J gunship “more crew friendly” and to reduce crew size through artificial intelligence and machine learning, James Smith, the acquisition executive for SOCOM, told the 30th Annual Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) Symposium in Arlington, Va., on Feb. 6.
Air Force Col. Melissa Johnson, the fixed wing program executive officer for SOCOM, told the attendees in a separate address that the goal is “reducing crew complement and workload” through automation and that she is seeking industry ideas on which functions of the AC-130J to automate and how to do so.
“One of the things we’re looking at right now is reducing the pressure I have to put on the crew,” she said. Even in contested zones in which integrated air defenses are present, SOCOM wants AC-130J crews to focus on strike missions and wants to shed weight on the aircraft through such things as smaller sensor packages in order to allow the gunships to loiter over an area longer.
SOCOM wants to test a 60-kilowatt, solid-state laser on an AC-130 gunship, a so-called Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL), by FY 2022, but funding remains a challenge.
In 2016, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board said that a laser mounted on an AC-130 could be used for offensive purposes, such as attacking buildings, cell towers, generators and vehicles, and to improve defenses against shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missiles (Defense Daily, Dec. 12, 2016).