Lockheed Martin has selected QinetiQ North America (QNA) to provide lightweight composite armour to protect the US Air Force's (USAF's) AC-130J gunships, according to a QNA release.
Known as LAST, the composite armour is field-installable on a variety of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. Each unit can be designed to accommodate several armour configurations given mission priorities, according to QNA.
No aircraft modifications are necessary to install the LAST armour kits, which can be put into operation at forward austere locations by flight crew using materials provided in the kit. The complete system can be transferred from one aircraft to another within an hour, the company claimed.
While the aircraft armour kits can be configured to provide protection against "any reasonable threat", according to QNA, the most common protection level is small arms up to, and including, 7.62 mm armour-piercing rounds and steel core ball rounds such as the 7.62 mm x54R, LPS. The aerial density of the LAST system is 37 kg/m 2 .
The AC-130J gunship is part of a major Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) C-130 re-capitalisation programme that will replace many early-model Hercules aircraft in the inventory with new C-130J platforms.
A total of 37 AC-130J aircraft will replace AFSOC's eight ageing AC-130H platforms, a significant increase from the 16 originally planned. It is understood that the procurement of the additional platforms will allow the 12 AC-130W Dragon Spear/Stinger II platforms currently performing gunship duties to revert back to their baseline MC-130W Combat Spear configuration.
The initial conversion work will see the AC-130J fitted with the same stand-off Precision-Strike Package (PSP) fitted on the AC-130W. The PSP involves fitting the aircraft with a single 30 mm Mk 44 Bushmaster cannon, precision-guided munitions, and a single medium-calibre gun.
Lockheed Martin officials had previously declined to disclose further details regarding other AC-130J equipment upgrades, but the release from QNA confirms that the LAST composite armour will be one of the modifications.