The US Air Force’s (USAF) 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida took delivery of the first Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider gunship on 6 March.

The Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider gunship is to replace the AC-130U Spooky gunship, which is slowly being retired from active duty after more than 20 years of operation.

Similar to the Block 20 AC-130J gunships already flown by the USAF, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) says the Block 30 upgrade marks a major improvement in software and avionics technology over the current fleet of Block 20s. The gunships are based on the medium-lift Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules cargo aircraft.

Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider gunship

Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider gunship

US Air Force

The new gunship is equipped with a precision strike package, which includes a mission management console, a more robust communications suite, two electro-optical/infrared sensors, advanced fire control equipment, a precision-guided munitions delivery capability, as well as trainable 30mm Mk 44 Bushmaster II and 105mm M102 howitzer weapons onboard. Additional improvements include updated crew seats with added safety features and a relocation of equipment into more optimal locations, says the special operations command.

“The Block 30 AC-130J is now our most lethal aircraft in AFSOC's inventory,” says Major Brandon Hughes, AFSOC headquarters AC-130J requirements chief.

The 4th Special Operations Squadron, which currently operates the AC-130U Spooky, has been the most deployed squadron in the USAF since 9/11, says the AFSOC. The gunships are used for close air support and air interdiction missions on behalf of special operations troops.

The Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider reached initial operational capability in 2017, but will continue to be tested for about one year before it becomes operationally deployable, says the AFSOC. In the meanwhile, air commandos with the 4th Special Operations Squadron will continue to operate the Spooky until it retires at the end of 2020.