Early on in the blog, we wrote about the development of the gunship, modified transport aircraft armed to provide fires to troops on the ground. They’re very expensive aircraft (mostly because of their sophisticated sensor arrays) so there are only a relative handful in service.
The introduction of the C-27J in service had some folks hoping a “Gunship Lite” program could be developed to supplement (but not supplant) the current AC-130U. For various reasons, including the cancellation of the entire C-27J program, that never came to pass.
But the need to bolster gunship numbers didn’t go away. So the MC-130W “Dragon Spear” was pressed into service. Originally intended to make up for losses in the special operations MC-130H community (clandestine delivery and retrieval of special operations forces), the MC-130W’s were in fact armed with sensors and weapons. A 30mm Bushmaster gun and ViperStrike missiles gave it a limited ability to attack enemy targets on the ground with great precision.
The armed mission was so pressing, the special operations mission was set aside, and last year, the “Dragon Spears” were redesignated AC-130W Stinger II.
The Air Force hopes to add Hellfire missile capability within the next year. I’ve heard they can (or soon will) use the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, but haven’t seen confirmation of that.
If you look closely at the pic above (click to embiggenfy) you’ll note not only the 30mm gun on the port side, but also the pylon outboard of the engine. That’s where the Hellfires will mount. The small turret under the nose radome houses the infrared sensor/laser designator.