The Russian “flying gunboat” will receive guided bombs and missiles. The Ministry of Defense has adjusted the requirements for a special-purpose strike vehicle developed on the basis of a military transport aircraft. This air transport is used to directly support troops on the battlefield. With artillery fire and ammunition strikes, it will destroy enemy infantry, fortifications and armored vehicles day and night in any weather conditions. The project called “Night Hunter” started back in 2016. In 2019, it became known that the An-12 should become the base for it (however, later it turned out that it did not meet the requirements for such a technique). Currently, according to experts, this type of aircraft is only in the US Army – these are aircraft of the AC-130 Gunship family.
Sources in the military-industrial complex told Izvestia that in addition to the 57-millimeter cannon, the arsenal of the Russian “flying gunboat” will also include guided aircraft weapons – precision bombs and missiles. Earlier it was assumed that the attack military transport aircraft would be armed only with artillery systems. The addition of guided munitions should turn the vehicle into a full-fledged attack aircraft capable of hitting ground targets day and night in any weather. The new research work received the index “Night Hunter – 1”.
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Earlier it was planned that the propeller-driven military transport An-12 would become the basis of the project. But later it turned out that he did not meet the requirements for a “flying gunboat”.
The first contract for research work (R&D) on the topic “Night Hunter” was signed between the Ministry of Defense and PJSC “Il” back in 2016 (a copy of the document is at the disposal of Izvestia). Within its framework, the very possibility and expediency of creating an aircraft armed with artillery was investigated. R&D was completed and accepted by the defense department in December 2017.
New plans to create an aircraft of this type were announced in the summer of 2019. It was reported that at the first stage of research, the An-12 will be converted for it, on which two 57-mm automatic cannons will be installed.
“There is still no confidence that such a machine is needed by our armed forces,” military expert Vladislav Shurygin told Izvestia. – The Americans created their AC-130 for the Special Operations Forces of the Russian Federation. It is still used to support special operations. Such aircraft are suitable for attacks on militants and terrorists, but they are completely unsuitable for a war with a serious enemy.
Better than a helicopter
Gunship (flying artillery batteries, or “air gunboats”) became famous during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. It was then in the United States that a strike version of the military transport C-47, C-119 and C-130 was first developed. Converted from cargo planes, vehicles with powerful weapons could patrol in the air for a long time and continuously fire at targets from cannons and machine guns, circling around them. In terms of speed, range and firepower, they were noticeably superior to helicopters.
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But already in the early 1970s, all in the same Vietnam, such aircraft began to suffer serious losses. Return fire from automatic cannons, air defense missiles and portable air defense systems managed to shoot down six AC-130s and a dozen of their predecessors, the simpler AC-47D Spooky.
Nevertheless, the use of the Gunship at night to support the special forces continued. They were again in active demand in the 2000s during the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in operations against terrorists in the Middle East.
Today, the most modern model of such an American aircraft is the AC-130J Ghostrider (deliveries to the troops began in 2017). They are still equipped with a powerful 105mm howitzer. It is complemented by a rapid-firing automatic 30mm cannon. The new one, unlike the machines of the Vietnam War, can also use high-precision bombs and missiles. It is planned to take into service 32 aircraft of this type. The US Marine Corps also has its simplified counterparts.
The need for such aircraft was called into question after the operation in Syria against the ISIS group (banned in Russia). According to statistics released by the Pentagon, conventional strike aircraft, including the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, were involved there in the interests of special forces much more often than Gunship. Nevertheless, the US military does not intend to abandon their use.
In modern Russia, there is experience in the use of armed transport aircraft. At the beginning of the new millennium, the modified patrol An-72P entered the border service in the Far East. They were equipped with a cannon and unguided rockets. The machines had a chance to use their weapons several times to stop intruders. In February 2001, one such plane was sunk by the Albatross-101, a poacher’s seiner, which refused to obey.
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In the USSR, experiments were carried out to arm military transport aircraft, but they did not receive much development. The country’s air force was focused on confronting a serious high-tech enemy. With thousands of bombers, attack aircraft and fighters available, a specialized “anti-guerrilla” aircraft was considered unnecessary.
“A transport aircraft cannot be a full-fledged attack aircraft,” Lieutenant General Valery Gorbenko, former commander of the Fourth Air Force and Air Defense Army, told Izvestia. – An attack aircraft, for example the modernized Su-25, is a combat aircraft that can perform complex maneuvers, it is designed for strike missions. It is equipped with an air defense complex and weapons that can work on the ground. The Su-25 operates along the forward edge and in tactical depth, and these lines are covered by a serious air defense system. The transport plane is a convenient target. He can only work on formations that do not have MANPADS and even DShK machine guns. He is not even capable of diving, which is why he will not be able to use many types of weapons. But on board it will fit an impressive arsenal.
In recent years, many samples of short-range high-precision weapons have been created to arm manned and unmanned aircraft. Some samples have already been tested in combat conditions in Syria on shock drones. Two models of rapid-fire 57-mm guns have also been developed to equip ground combat vehicles. Such weapons may well be used by modernized military transport aircraft.