One of Italy’s biggest and most well-known defense contractors displayed its brand-new, unique roll-on/roll-off gunship system to the public at the 2015 International Defense Industry Fair in Istanbul, Turkey. What makes the system especially revolutionary is the fact that it can be fitted onto any NATO airlift aircraft able to carry a 463L pallet in its cargo hold, including the Alenia C-27J Spartan and the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, turning the aircraft into a lightly-armed but still fairly deadly (and reasonably accurate) aerial gunship.
According to OTO Melara, the system features a 20mm M61A1 Vulcan multi-barreled Gatling cannon fitted to a servo-operated gunmount, limited to a 4000 rounds-per-minute rate of fire. The Vulcan, mounted on a set of rails, is designed to “peek” out the paratrooper (read: side) door of the aircraft when ready to fire, and retract into the hold when not in firing-mode. To assist with targeting, the system comes stock with a reworked version of a Selex ES Janus electro-optical infrared pod and a co-linked GPS/Intertial Navigation setup. To minimize weight, OTO Melara made extensive use of carbon fiber construction, keeping the overall weight to 1550 kg, when fully loaded with the maximum complement of ammunition (750 rounds of 20mm shells) and with the gunner strapped into his station, which is also included in the system. To cap it off, everything mounted aboard the 463L-type pallet is self-sufficient, with a set of batteries allowing for around 30 minutes of power, though the pallet can be plugged into the host aircraft’s auxiliary power systems for a more constant supply of juice. OTO Melara claims that the system can be loaded onto an airlifter and brought online within fifteen minutes or less. And on top of that, since everything’s fitted onto one pallet, this leaves space for other mission modules. The company claims that there is a possibility of upgrading the primary weapon to a 25mm Gatling cannon, though that’s for future development. At the moment, the system could likely be used on the MC-27J Praetorian variant of the C-27, which is designed to fly ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions, as well as function as an armed air-support bird, which is also capable of letting loose Hellfire missiles and certain precision-guided bombs.
OTO Melara stated that the Italian Air Force had already taken delivery of a prototype in October of last year, which was then loaded onto a C-27J for testing. It was first fired in-flight early last month at a range in Sardinia, and interest has already been generated from Middle Eastern clients as possible exporters. This could potentially enhance the close air support capabilities of a number of foreign air forces, giving them an aircraft (when they need it) that operates somewhat similarly to the legendary AC-130 series of heavy gunships, operated exclusively by the United States Air Force.