AC-130 Spectre Attack Aircraft

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The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a heavily-armed ground-attack aircraft variant of the C-130 Hercules transport plane. The basic airframe is manufactured by Lockheed, while Boeing is responsible for the conversion into a gunship and for aircraft support.The AC-130A Gunship II superseded the AC-47 Gunship I during the Vietnam War.
The gunship's sole user is the United States Air Force, which uses AC-130H Spectre and AC-130U Spooky variants for close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Close air support roles include supporting ground troops, escorting convoys, and flying urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against planned targets and targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include defending air bases and other facilities. AC-130Us are based at Hurlburt Field, Florida and AC-130Hs are based at Cannon AFB, New Mexico; though both deploy to bases worldwide in support of operations. The gunship squadrons are part of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), a component of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

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Most of the weaponry aboard is mounted to fire out from the left or port side of the aircraft. During an attack, the gunship performs a pylon turn over the target area (flying in a large circle around a fixed point on the ground, the fixed point being the target). This allows it to maintain fire at a target far longer than a conventional attack aircraft. The AC-130H "Spectre" can be armed with two 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannons, one Bofors 40mm autocannon, and one 105 mm M102 cannon. The upgraded AC-130U "Spooky" has a single 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer in place of the Spectre's twin 20 mm cannons, as well as an improved fire control system and increased capacity for ammunition. Power is provided by four Allison T56-A-15 turboprops (standard for a C-130 Hercules). New AC-130J gunships based on MC-130J Combat Shadow II special operations tankers are planned.

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(Gunners loading 40 mm cannon (background) and 105 mm cannon)

These heavily-armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation, and fire control systems to provide precision firepower or area-saturation fire with its varied armament. The AC-130 can spend long periods flying over their target area at night and in adverse weather. The sensor suite consists of a television sensor, infrared sensor, and radar. These sensors allow the gunship to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets in most weather conditions. The AC-130U is equipped with the AN/APQ-180, a synthetic aperture radar for long-range target detection and identification. The gunship's navigational devices include inertial navigation systems and a Global Positioning System. The AC-130U employs technologies developed in the 1990s which allow it to attack two targets simultaneously. It has twice the munitions capacity of the AC-130H. Although the AC-130U conducts some operations in daylight, most of its combat missions are conducted at night.

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A multi-mode strike radar provides extreme long-range target detection and identification. It is able to track 40mm and 105mm projectiles and return pinpoint impact locations to the crew for subsequent adjustment to the target. The fire control system offers a Dual Target Attack capability, whereby two targets up to one kilometer apart can be simultaneously engaged by two different sensors, using two different guns. No other air-ground attack platform in the world offers this capability.

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Targeting equipment installed in the gunship includes an advanced All-Light Level Television (ALLTV) system with a laser illuminator, laser target designator, laser range finder, infrared detection set, and night vision goggles for the pilots. Navigational devices include the inertial navigation system (INS) and global positioning system (GPS).

The side-firing weapons array consists of one 25mm GAU-12 Gatling gun (firing 1,800 rounds per minute), one 40mm L60 Bofors cannon (with a selectable firing rate of single shot or 120 rounds per minute) and one 105mm M-102 Howitzer cannon (firing 6 to 10 rounds per minute). Defensive systems include a countermeasures dispensing system that releases chaff and flares to counter radar infrared-guided antiaircraft missiles. Also, infrared heat shields mounted underneath the engines disperse and hide engine heat sources from infrared-guided antiaircraft missiles.


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The AC-130U is pressurized, enabling it to fly at higher altitudes, saving fuel and time, and allowing for greater range than the AC-130H. An inflight refueling capability is also provided.

All AC-130Us are currently assigned to the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and serve with the 4th SOS, part of the 16th SOW, at Hurlburt Field, Florida.