The USAF's gunships are one of the most unique ground support platforms in the world. During WWII, a man named LtCol G.C. MacDonald decided that a solution to the accuracy problems fighters and bombers have with delivering ordinance would be to have an airplane circle the target and shoot at it from the side rather than make a run and have to squeeze off a short burst at just the right time. It wasn't until the Vietnam War that this concept saw service, first with the AC-47 "Spooky" Gunship. The AC-47 was a converted C-47 (or DC-3) cargo plane with three 7.62 gatling guns mounted on the left side. The Spooky could put out a phenomenal amount of bullets and looked like it was firing a solid stream of fire, which was as demoralizing to the Vietnamese as it was effective at routing their attacks through sheer destruction of forces. The AC-47 had some limitations however, and the Air Force upgraded the concept by utilizing the C-130 airframe and bigger guns.
The AC-130A , and Black Crow sensor, which could track Soviet built trucks by the signals given off by their unshielded ignition coils. The AC-130E quickly became king of the night time sky, interdicting trucks and traffic on the famed Ho Chi Minh Trail and defending outposts from massed attacks by vietnamese and Viet Cong forces.
Upgraded again to the AC-130H (
Newer, more powerful engines and the capability for in-flight refueling)
), the Spectres continued to serve the Armed forces after the war, taking part in almost every major military action since the Vietnam war, including Grenada, Panama, and the Gulf War. In addition, Gunships have been deployed with US forces to such hot spots as Somalia, haiti, and the Balklans. In each case they have been very popular with US and Nato forces. Late in the 1980's, however, the
decided that it needed to upgrade the capacities of the AC-130, and the AC-130U project was begun. The weapons were changed somewhat, with the twin 20mm vulcan cannons being dropped in favor of a GAU-12 25mm rotating cannon. At one point it was planned to add the capacity to add hellfire missiles but this was never adopted.
However, the biggest change to the AC-130 airframe was in it's electronics and avionics. AN AN/APG-180 radar ( derived from the same ground and air radar that the Air Forces F-15E uses ) was added to allow tracking of targets and rounds for adjustment as was an ALLTV ( All Light Level TV ) for operations at night or daytime, when the crew wants to keep their radars off the avoid alerting enemy forces or giving anti-radar missiles a target to home in on. Over 600,000 lines of computer code was written to tie all the weapons systems and sensors together, making the AC-130U second only to the new F-22 fighter in terms of complex airborne weapons systems.
With these systems, the AC-130U can operate at night and in bad weather, engaging multiple targetssimultaneouslyy. The AN/APG radar allows the targeting crew in the control booth to follow rounds all the way to the ground and make live corrections without having to wait for ground troops to spot and report back. The larger 25mm gun has a longer range and more power, allowing the AC-130U to stay higher and farther away from ground threats, and its 1,800 rounds per minute firing rate can decimate anything from enemy formations to light armored vehicles. All of the weapons are now fixed onhydraulicallyy actuated, computer trainable mounts, so that the new AC-130U can attack two targets over half a mile apart at the same time. With this upgrade also came a new call sign to reflect the increased capabilities of the new gunships; the AC-130U uses the call sign Spooky.
These weapons and sensors are brought together an integrated in the Battle Management Center, a box shaped area in what would be the cargo hold in a normal C-130. In it sit the Navigator, Fire Control Officer, Electronics Warfare Officer, and Sensor Operator.
Also, in times of need, the AC-130U can be fitted with the EIRS ( Engine Infrared Suppression ) to make it harder for infra-red SAM's to track. This is not standard equipment, however, as it decreases the aircraft's range and loiter time. Recent upgrades allow AC-130U's to receive live video feeds fromun manedd reconnaissance aircraft
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The gunship's main missions are support of troops in contact (TIC) with enemy forces, armed interdiction of enemy forces, and armed reconnaissance. These can be broken down into more refined roles such as landing zonepreparationn, destruction of enemy emplacements during battle, and monitoring potential battlezones for targets.
There are currently 13 AC-130U's in the inventory and funding has been secured to convert four more standard C-130's to gunship configuration.