US Special Operations Command wants to demonstrate a high energy laser on an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship in fiscal 2022. Leaders from Air Force Special Operations Command wanted an airborne-mounted laser weapon by the end of 2019. The 60-kilowatt high energy laser will be mounted on an AC-130J Ghostrider, a massively armed workhorse for the Air Force. The laser weapon will be a cherry on top to the gunship, which already boasts a 30mm side-firing chain gun, a 105mm cannon, AGM-176A Griffin laser guided missiles, wing-mounted GBU-39/B GPS-guided and GBU-39B/B laser-guided Small Diameter Bombs.
Unlike those kinetic weapons, the offensive high energy laser would be able to disable enemy systems stealthily. As envisioned, a Ghostrider could take out several aircraft, defensive weapons and sensors with its silent, unseen laser weapons before the enemy even knew they were under attack. There’s no explosion, sounds or flashes of lights to alarm the targets. An enemy combatant would only realize what had happened once they attempted to use a system that had already been disabled.
Some have expressed skepticism about the near-term prospects for airborne lasers. Then-Director of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency Steven Walker said in 2018 he expected airborne assets to be the last to adopt laser weapons due to the inherent size, weight and power constraints at play. According to FY21 budget documents, the program will utilize rapid prototyping efforts to develop laser, beam control, power and thermal subsystems and then bring the systems together through a lead government integrator.
Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract for the high-power laser in December 2018 and is expected to deliver in early 2021.
There are expectations that the new offensive weapon will be ready for a demonstration in two years.