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AC-130J Ghostrider flies close-air support at Exercise Balikatan, a first

A U.S. Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, in the Philippines for the first time, supported close-air support training for a bilateral team of U.S. and Filipino battlefield airmen this week during Exercise Balikatan.

The Ghostrider, assigned to the 73rd Special Operations Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Florida, deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan, to the Philippines and fired its 30mm and 105mm cannons on targets called in by combat controllers with Kadena’s 320th Special Tactics Squadron and joint terminal attack controllers with the Philippine air force’s 710th Special Operations Wing, according to a news release.

The deployment also marked the first time the updated J model of the AC-130 has landed in or operated in Japan.

play_circle_filled The AC-130J Ghostrider is the fourth generation gunship set to replace the special operations fleet of AC-130H/U/W gunships at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 30, 2015. AFSOC received its first AC-130J, July 29, from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where it completed its initial developmental test and evaluation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Kai White/Released)
Meet the Air Force's 'ultimate battle plane' and your new close-air support

When it hits the battlefield in a few short years, the AC-130J Ghostrider will be the most heavily armed gunship in history – a badass plane providing close-air support to U.S. troops on the ground, and delivering withering firepower that will send enemies running for the hills.

“This training shows a projection of power and displays the reach of the AC-130J,” said Capt. Aaron Boudreau, a Ghostrider pilot with the 73rd and AC-130J liaison for Exercise Balikatan, in the release. “This is the first time this asset has been in the Philippines, so it will give Philippine controllers the ability to train with American pilots and vice versa and shows that we can accomplish the mission together, as friends and allies.”

Airmen work aboard an AC-130J Ghostrider during close-air support training at Exercise Balikatan. (Lance Cpl. Dalton Payne/Marine Corps)
Airmen work aboard an AC-130J Ghostrider during close-air support training at Exercise Balikatan. (Lance Cpl. Dalton Payne/Marine Corps)

The close-air support live-fire training in a complex and realistic environment advanced the combined capabilities of the two nations and demonstrated the reach of U.S. SOF assets, according to the release.

“The airmen from the 320th STS and 710th SPOW have a great partnership and a strong friendship,” said an unnamed 320th STS airman in the release. “During Balikatan, we always start the exercise with some academic classes before progressing to controlling live air-to-ground engagements. “Both U.S. and Philippine JTACs work with U.S. and Philippine aircraft to enhance our interoperability. Together, we get better every Balikatan.”

During the exercise, the Ghostrider also flew alongside Philippine fighter jets.

“This CAS integration between the FA-50PH [fighter] and the AC-130J is a pioneering training for our PAF fighter pilots,” said Philippine air force Maj. Michael G. Rabina, commander of the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the release. “It is a welcome opportunity for us to participate in such operations that offers a valuable training environment to enhance our capabilities. This exercise demonstrates the interoperability of the Fighting Eagle with the gunship and with our allies in a combined operations setting.”

Balikatan is an annual exercise between the U.S. and the Philippines and comes from a Tagalog phrase meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder.”

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