The US military is trialling the use of the Lockheed Martin AC-130W Stinger II gunship in the anti-surface warfare (ASuW) role in the Middle East.
The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on 15 March that US Navy (USN) Cyclone-class patrol coastal ships (PC) and Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime multimission aircraft (MMA) assigned to US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) had conducted "a first-of-its-kind" joint exercise with US Air Force (USAF) AC-130W gunships assigned to Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) on 8 and 9 March.
According to the DoD, the exercises were designed to enhance the capabilities of US forces to respond to surface threats and involved P-8 aircraft performing long-range reconnaissance ahead of PCs selecting simulated surface targets for the AC-130W to engage.
"This exercise mark[ed] the first time these assets ha[d] been integrated in direct support of maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf," the DoD said.
The AC-130W Stinger II (formerly known as Dragon Spear) is a gunship-variant of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and is flown by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). It is armed with a GAU-23 Bushmaster 30 mm cannon, a 105 mm gun, and stand-off precision-guided munitions such as the Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) and Raytheon's AGM-176A Griffin missile. AFSOC has 12 such aircraft in its inventory, flying alongside C-130-gunship variants such as the AC-130J Ghostrider.
These joint exercises are in support of the USN's Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 50/Combined Task Force (CTF) 55, which conducts maritime security operations in support of regional security and stability in the 5th Fleet's area of responsibility (AoR) that encompasses about 6.5 million km 2 across the Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean.
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