The Air Force Tested a Mini-Gunship Last Year

Obscure program is similar to 1960s efforts

The Air Force Tested a Mini-Gunship Last Year The Air Force Tested a Mini-Gunship Last Year
In tests last year, U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command fitted a C-145A Skytruck small airlifter with two .50-caliber machine guns. The flying branch’s air... The Air Force Tested a Mini-Gunship Last Year

In tests last year, U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command fitted a C-145A Skytruck small airlifter with two .50-caliber machine guns. The flying branch’s air commandos are interested in using the aircraft to train foreign air arms.

We don’t know the program’s specific requirements nor who exactly did the testing. Gunships converted from transport planes are distinctly American and few other countries use them.

We also don’t know why the Air Force picked the simple, twin-engine Skytruck for this test. The flying branch bought the first of these small Polish-made planes in 2009. They’ve flown secretive supply missions in Afghanistan and Africa.

It’s probably safe to say that the Florida-based 6th Special Operations Squadron—which started flying the C-145 in 2012—was involved. The squadron is the only active-duty Air Force unit that does what the Pentagon calls “foreign internal defense,” or FID.

FID involves training foreign forces to fight insurgents and terrorists inside their own borders. The 6th SOS has sent air commandos to at least 15 countries since 2009.

The squadron’s destinations included El Salvador and Jordan. El Salvador operated gunships into the mid-2000s. Jordan hired American defense contractor ATK in 2009 to build some basic gunships.

Other countries are probably interested in these aircraft, as well. Gunships can be devastating against forces with few anti-aircraft weapons.

A U.S. Air Force AC-47D in South Vietnam in 1968. Air Force photo

What is old is new again

Interestingly, this is not the first time air commandos have asked for a simple gunship to help other air forces. The flying branch started a similar program in the late 1960s.

In 1967, Air Forces Southern Command wanted to train Latin American countries to use these unique planes. Unfortunately, the command lacked a suitable aircraft.

The flying branch’s original AC-47Ds gunships were busy fighting in Vietnam. The aircraft’s primary weapon, the deadly minigun, was also in short supply.

There weapon system AFSOC tested last year on the C-145A (left) and the one the Special Operations Center developed in 1968 for the AC-47D (right). Special Operations Command/Air Force photos

The Air Force’s Special Operations Center solved this problem by using .50-caliber guns, instead. The twin machine-gun mount on the Skytruck is at least a spiritual successor to this 1968 design.

The Air Force was satisfied with this new AC-47 variant. American friends and allies in Southeast Asia and Latin America were eager to get the new planes.

Cambodia, Laos, Colombia and El Salvador received these gunships in the 1970s and 1980s. The planes were relatively simple to operate and didn’t need to use long, paved runways.

The Skytruck has many of these features already. AFSOC bought the aircraft specifically because they were easy to fly and could use small landing strips.

However, the Air Force says there are no plans to develop the aircraft any further, despite a successful demonstration. Still, we might see another mini-gunship in the future—America’s allies are clearly still interested in these aircraft.

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