A gunship-deployed sensor drone may eventually allow the new AC-130J Ghostrider to spot, engage, and destroy targets from above the cloud deck, said Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold. “It’s awful hard to peer through the deck … even with a radar, but how about I just throw a small UAV out a common launch tube?” he said, speaking at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event on March 18. “We’re going to be able to do that pretty easily. The technology’s out there,” he added. Heithold said AFSOC plans to request research and development funds as early as FY17. These “tethered sensors are among several “leap ahead technologies” under consideration for future AC-130J integration, he said. “Industry partners out here have the technology to the point now that we think we could put a high energy laser on a C-130 in place of the 105mm [gun], so we’re moving that direction.” Non-lethal microwave weapons are further down the road, but Heithold said he’s “very keen” on putting this capability on the gunship. “That’s a non-lethal means of getting people to stop” and disperse without bloodshed, and “I think we’ll have missions like that in the future,” he added.
When the Air Force sets a new program baseline for the B-52 re-engining this fall, there will be “some” cost increase, because the project wasn't previously fully funded, and the Air Force has a better handle on actual supplier costs and knowledge from ground testing, program officials said.