Cradle to grave: AC-130J Ghostrider fleet growing Published Oct. 28, 2016 By Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs HURLBURT FIELD. Fla., -- Over the past four decades, AC-130 gunship variants have deployed constantly to hotspots throughout the world in support of special operations and conventional forces. “The AC-130 is generally known for providing close air support to special operations forces,” said Maj. Justin Eulberg, an evaluator pilot with the 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2. “We have our eyes on them all the time while looking out for enemy forces or any threats and if necessary, we're able to provide precision fire on those threats.” The first of Air Force Special Operations Command’s AC-130J Ghostrider gunship fleet, the fourth generation replacement for the aging AC-130U/W gunships, is scheduled to be operationally capable by fiscal year 2018. An AC-130J begins its life at Marietta, Georgia, where Lockheed Martin produces an MC-130J Commando II. "The first step is picking up an aircraft from Lockheed Martin in Marietta as MC-130J,” Eulberg said. "These are brand new airplanes when we pick them up, and they still have that new airplane smell with single-digit flight hours on them." From Marietta, the aircraft is flown to Crestview, where it undergoes modifications to become an AC-130J gunship. “In Crestview, the modifications undergone include structure modifications to support the sensor balls along with radio and hydraulics modifications for the 105mm canon,” Eulberg said. The AC-130J is modified with the precision strike package, which includes a mission management console, robust communications suite, advanced fire control equipment, precision guided munitions delivery capability. “What makes [the AC-130J] unique is that it will also have the 105mm capabilities,” Eulberg said. “So we'll have the 30mm and the 105mm, and we will be able to escalate fires from both. When we need precision strike capabilities, we will use the laser-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and the AGM-176 Griffin. We will eventually get the Hellfire missile, which will help against armored targets as well.” As the Ghostrider concludes its modifications in Crestview, the aircraft is flown to Hurlburt Field, where tests on the aircraft begin and are conducted by the 1st SOG Detachment 2. "Detachment 2's mission is to support developmental tests and operational tests,” Eulberg said. “We're the operational crews that go and fly the AC-130J to validate their operational capabilities." For one cadre, being a part of the team testing the AC-130J is inspiring. “It's a great honor to be selected as one of the initial cadre establishing the next generation of gunships,” said Capt. Brandon Hughes, an executive officer with the 1st SOG Detachment 2. “Knowing my inputs will last decades only increases my desire to ensure everything I am doing is helping to get it right.” The Ghostrider flies with a nine-man crew: two pilots, two combat systems officers, one sensor operator and four special mission aviators. The AC-130J will provide ground forces an expeditionary, direct-fire platform that is persistent, ideally suited for urban operations, and delivers precision low-yield munitions against ground targets. Once tests are concluded and aircraft are deemed fully functional, they will be flown to their new homes across AFSOC. AFSOC is scheduled to have 37 Ghostrider gunships in its inventory by 2025.