Air Force Special Operations plans to retain some of its older AC-130 gunship initially slated for retirement to use as test beds for laser weapons systems, said AFSOC boss Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold on Tuesday. Addressing a directed energy “summit” in McLean, Va., Heithold said his top need for lasers on his gunships was defensive, rather than offensive. Heithold said taking out “high value targets” and rescuing hostages can require the command’s C-130s to go into well-defended areas. “If we don’t figure out ways to defend our airplanes, we can lose that capability. I have to think first and foremost in the defensive mode, to protect my airplanes,” he said. However, Heithold said AFSOC also is developing an offensive laser system that would go on later models of the AC-130. Addressing the same forum, Lt Gen. William Etter, the Joint Forces Air Component Commander at US Northern Command, cited the value of directed energy weapons, such as high-powered lasers, to help defend the homeland. Although they have made “rapid progress” on detection, “we still have the same defensive weapons we had on 9/11,” Etter said. (See also Gunship Mini-Me, Microwave, and Lasers.)
Three B-1B Lancers from the 7th Bomb Wing flew over the Indo-Pacific alongside F-16s from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force as part of a joint large force exercise. The mission began and ended in the continental U.S. The bombers flew 31 hours and landed Jan. 11.