AC-130J Gunship Deployed to Korean Peninsula Amid North Korean GPS Jamming and Propaganda Balloons

The U.S. deployed its fearsome AC-130J "Ghostrider" gunship to the Korean Peninsula for joint air exercises with South Korea, flexing firepower in response to North Korean provocations like propaganda balloons and GPS jamming.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The South Korean Air Force announced that from the 17th to the 20th, a combined South Korea-U.S. air exercise was conducted with the deployment of the U.S. Airforce Special Operations Command aircraft (AFSOC), the AC-130J Ghostrider, to the Korean Peninsula.

The deployment of the AC-130J to the Korean Peninsula is seen as a strong response to North Korea’s provocations, such as the dispersal of balloons carrying propaganda and GPS jamming attacks. This marks the second deployment of the AC-130J to the Korean Peninsula since March of last year.

Held at various locations, including Pilseung Training Grounds in Taebaek, Gangwon Province, and Jikdo Shooting Range off the coast of Gunsan, Jeollabuk-do, this exercise focused on fulfilling the U.S. commitment to extended deterrence and strengthening interoperability and combined defense posture.

The AC-130J’s deployment to the Korean Peninsula marks its second visit since March 2023.

The U.S. AC-130J special operations aircraft conducted close air support (CAS) training with the South Korean Air Force’s F-15K, KF-16, FA-50 fighters, and the KA-1 air control attack aircraft.

In particular, the AC-130J and the South Korean Air Force’s (K)F-16 fighters conducted live-fire training together.

The AC-130 is an aerial bombing weapon modified from a C-130 transport aircraft. It is equipped with a 30mm cannon and a 105mm howitzer.

It has formidable firepower, capable of raining shells on targets from the sky day and night, earning it the nickname “Sky Battleship.” It also has another nickname, ‘the angel of death.’

This was the first time the U.S. Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR) opened a live-fire exercise with the AC-130J on the Korean Peninsula to the Korean media.

A journalist reporting for YNA news said the AC-130J was circling the firing range at altitudes between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. White smoke billowed from the left side of the aircraft, followed by a roar that signaled the start of bombardment. Shortly after, earthy smoke rose from the target point on the ground. The bombardment, with intervals of 1 to 2 minutes, continued for a staggering two hours. Ground troops repeatedly requested bombardment via radio, and the AC-130J, making left turns, continued to fire at the ground.

Approximately 70 soldiers from SOCKOR and the South Korean military participated in the exercise. The primary role of the AC-130J is to provide fire support to special forces operating on the ground. During the exercise, the ground troops requested bombardment on specific points, and the AC-130J carried it out.

Unlike bombers, the AC-130J operates at low altitudes visible to the naked eye, raising concerns about its vulnerability to enemy interception. SOCKOR emphasized the importance of communication with the ground to mitigate this risk. Ground personnel monitor the operational area and inform the AC-130J of any potential threats to enhance its survivability.

The training area simulated enemy positions with tanks and aircraft, and the participating South Korean and U.S. soldiers carefully observed the equipment layout before requesting bombardment via radio.

The AC-130J is a heavily armed aircraft capable of firing thousands of 30mm cannon rounds and 105mm shells per minute. Despite boasting various armaments like the AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missile and GBU-39 small diameter precision-guided bomb, only the 105mm cannon was used during this exercise due to fire risk concerns.

Although the live-fire exercise coincided with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to North Korea, SOCKOR clarified that the exercise had been planned long before and was unrelated to current geopolitical events.

Derek Lipson, commander of SOCKOR, stated in a press release announcing the AC-130J’s visit, “We are focused on supporting the ironclad commitment of the U.S.-ROK alliance to defend both our homelands. All exercises aim at the continuous goal of conflict prevention, ensuring we are prepared to win if anyone miscalculates our resolve for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

In March 2023, South Korea and the United States held the “Teak Knife” combined special operations exercise, deploying the AC-130J gunship to the Korean Peninsula for the first time. This exercise primarily focused on infiltrating enemy territory and rescuing hostages, but it also heavily emphasized “decapitation operations” aimed at eliminating key figures within North Korea in the event of a contingency. Given that the AC-130 can deliver a massive barrage of artillery from the air, it is considered a “quasi-strategic asset” by North Korea.

In 2023, the Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff released a video of an AC-130J firing AGM-114 ‘Hellfire’ and AGM-176 ‘Griffin’ missiles and GBU-39 SDB (small diameter bomb) precision-guided bombs, which targeted the Jikdo shooting range and struck accurately. The video also included a scene of the AC-130J’s 30mm cannon and 105mm howitzer shelling the Jikdo shooting range. The release of the video was interpreted as a strong warning message against North Korea’s recent launch of the Hwasong-15 type ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile).


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