SOCOM Puts Laser Spotlight on AC-130 Gunships

A non-lethal laser mounted on an Army Humvee. (US Army Photo)

A non-lethal laser mounted on an Army Humvee. (US Army Photo)

There has been a lot written about expensive US Defense Department efforts to use aircraft-mounted laser beams to shoot down ICBMs or destroy vehicles on the ground.

But US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is using non-lethal, and certainly much cheaper, commercial technology to combat fratricide in Afghanistan.

Afghan troops were firing weapons at Americans. SOCOM AC-130 gunship crews would deploy defensive flares, but the shooting continued.

“We tried everything, it wouldn’t work,” James “Hondo” Geurts, SOCOM’s acquisition executive, said a Precision Strike Association conference in Springfield, Va. this week.

“We were having green-on-blue fratricide issues and we wanted a way to tell the Afghans, ‘Hey if you’re shooting at us, that’s probably not going to go so well for you,'” he said.

So SOCOM purchased a high-power laser spotlight, the type used during concerts. In 17 days, it was mounted on an AC-130 gunship, Geurts said. SOCOM calls the initiative “BAGL,” which stands for “Big Ass Green Laser.”

“We mounted it on a gunship and from a couple miles away you could flash a green spot,” he said. “Then we told the Afghans, if you’re shooting and you’re seeing a big green blinking light on you, that’s probably not good for you.”

And what happened? “It helped stop a lot of fratricide issues,” Geurts said.

During his presentation at the conference, Geurts displayed a picture of a mid-sided pickup truck and three people illuminated by a green laser beam. The picture looked akin to a alien abduction in a Hollywood flick.

“That’s not what the laser was designed for, that’s not what the gunship was designed for,” Geurts said. “But, [we] had a battlefield problem, [we] got something downrange quickly and it solved that problem.”

Marcus Weisgerber
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Marcus Weisgerber

Senior Pentagon Correspondent at Defense News
I write about broad-ranging policy, acquisition and budget issues affecting the US military.
Marcus Weisgerber
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