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​A laser-armed AC-130 gunship will take to the skies by 2020 if industry takes up Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold’s challenge. “I call this my John F. Kennedy challenge … to get a high energy laser on an AC-130J by the close of the decade,” he said, speaking at ASC15 on Tuesday. “We learned a lot from the Advanced Tactical Laser … that took the whole back of a C-130, but it did, in fact, work … it moved the ball to the 50-yard line,” stressed Heithold. The AC-130J platform could accommodate up to a 5,000-pound laser weapon—the size of the gunship’s existing 30 mm or 105 mm guns. “I don’t want to have to take a gun off the airplane, but I’ll give you that much space,” he said. The weapon would first and foremost defend the AC-130 against surface-to-air missile threats, but would also be capable of disabling ground targets, including vehicles. “We do danger close, close air support, but you’ve got to put the aircraft over the objective” to do that, said Heithold. Modern surface-to-air threats “continues to shrink” the window AC-130s operate within, making advanced self defenses essential to the gunship concept’s survival, he said. “I think we’ve got it in the red zone now with the technology that’s out there … the hard part of this will be directing the beam,” he said, adding that he is confident that “we can do it.”