US Air Force gunship training unit to relocate to New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Air Force has selected a base in New Mexico as the future home for its AC-130J aircraft and training force.
Officials say Kirtland Air Force Base is their preferred site for the relocation of the Ghostrider Formal Training Unit since it would allow for training to be consolidated at one special operations location.
Col. Mike Curry said during a recent news conference that the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland already does training in variations of special operations C-130J aircraft that are similar to the AC-130J gunships.
Curry said additional factors in the relocation involve the increasingly crowded airspace around Hurlburt, the similarities between New Mexico’s terrain and the geography of many of the places where the aircraft is deployed, and the proximity to two training ranges: the Melrose Air Force Range and White Sands Missile Range.
The AC-130J aircraft provides close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance in support of special operations around the world. The latest version of the fixed-wing aircraft marks the fourth generation, with the first being used in the Vietnam War.
The first AC-130J Ghostrider arrived at Hurlburt — home of the Air Force Special Operations Command — in July 2015 after testing at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.
Each of the highly modified AC-130J aircraft was built at a cost of about $115 million. The gunships have engines that allow it to stay in the air longer without refueling. They also have the ability to fly higher, carry more weight and engage targets from longer distances, Curry said.
In addition to small-diameter bombs and air-to-ground Hellfire missiles, the gunships have 30- and 105-millimeter cannons guided by precision laser and GPS systems.
Sherman McCorkle, founder of the Kirtland Partnership Committee, a community-based advocacy organization that highlights and supports the work done at the base, told the Albuquerque Journal that Kirtland for more than three decades has provided pilot training opportunities that are “unmatched anywhere else in the U.S.”
More than 10,000 aircrew members are trained annually at the 58th wing, base officials said.