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US scraps airborne directed-energy weapon program – media

As America braces for a potential war with China, a laser-armed gunship for use against militants seems useless, The War Zone says

The US Air Force has suspended its attempts to put a 60kw-class laser weapon on the AC-130J, its close air support aircraft, The War Zone said on Tuesday.

The military news outlet has received confirmation that the Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL) program has been scrapped directly by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). It linked the decision to the retooling of the Pentagon’s arsenals for potential conflicts with peer competitors, such as China.

The Lockheed AC-130 is a version of the C-130 Hercules transport, which the US has been using for over five decades in ground attack operations. The current AC-130J Ghostrider version was introduced in 2015. AHEL was supposed to add a directed energy weapon to the toolkit available for the aircraft.

The War Zone argued that AHEL was axed after years of delays because the Pentagon is preparing for “high-end” warfare, as opposed to counter-insurgency operations. The laser system was touted as an efficient way to deal with militants in an environment where US air superiority is not challenged.

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The same reasoning applies to the potential removal of 105mm howitzers from the fleet of AC-130Js, which was mentioned in the Pentagon’s latest budget request, the report said. As of last November, only 17 of the 30 aircraft had received this upgrade, it added.

The $849.8 billion request by the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2025 was published last week. It included no new funding for AHEL, indicating its imminent termination, according to The War Zone.

Lockheed was awarded the contract for AHEL integration with the AC-130J in 2019 and was initially expected to commence flight testing of the weapon in fiscal year 2021. That year, the defense giant described the successful factory acceptance testing of the system as a “tremendous accomplishment.”

“After accomplishing significant end-to-end high power operation in an open-air ground test, the AHEL solid state laser system experienced technical challenges,” AFSOC told the website in a statement. “These challenges delayed integration onto [the] designated AC-130J Block 20 aircraft past the available integration and flight test window.”

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AFSOC added that the program has been “re-focused on ground testing to improve operations and reliability to posture for a successful hand off for use by other agencies,” saying any further questions should be directed to the US Special Operations Command.


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