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Lockheed AC-130
AC-130H Spectre jettisons flares
Information
Title AC-130H Spectre gunship jettisons flares in 2007
Name AC-130 Spectre/Spooky
Role Fixed-wing gunship
National Origin {Origin}
First Flight AC-130A: 1966

AC-130U: 1990

Introduction AC-130A: 1968

AC-130U: 1995

Status Active
Primary Users -
Number Built 47, including all variants
Program Cost {Cost}
Unit Cost AC-130H: US$132.4 million

AC-130U: US$190 million (2001)

Overview Edit

The AC-130H Spectre gunship's primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Other missions include perimeter and point defense, escort, landing, drop and extraction zone support, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.

These heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended periods, at night and in adverse weather.

AC-130 firing night

An AC-130 gunship firing its weapons during a night mission.

During Vietnam, gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. AC-130s suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. This enabled the successful assault of Point Salines airfield via airdrop and airland of friendly forces.

The gunships had a primary role during Operation Just Cause in Panama by destroying Panamanian Defense Force Headquarters and numerous command and control facilities by surgical employment of ordnance in an urban environment. As the only close air support platform in the theater, Spectres were credited with saving the lives of many friendly personnel.

During Operation Desert Storm, Spectres provided air base defense and close air support for ground forces. AC-130s were also used during Operations Continue Hope and United Shield in Somalia, providing close air support for United Nations ground forces. The gunships have most recently played a pivotal role during operations in support of the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing air interdiction against key targets in the Sarajevo area.

The AC-130 is an excellent fire support platform with outstanding capabilities. With its extremely accurate fire control system, the AC-130 can place 105mm, 40mm and 25mm munitions on target with first round accuracy. The crew of these aircraft are extremely proficient working in military operations in urban terrain [MOUT] environments.

The Air Force commemorated the end of an era 10 September 1995 with the retirement of the first C-130 aircraft to come off a production line. The aircraft, tail number 53-3129, went into production at the Lockheed Aircraft Co. in Marietta, Ga., in 1953 and was the original prototype of what was to become a long line of C-130 Hercules aircraft designed and built by Lockheed. The aircraft, affectionately dubbed "The First Lady," was one of five AC-130A gunship aircraft retired during an official ceremony. While the other four aircraft were sent to the Aerospace Marketing and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the First Lady went on permanent display at the Eglin Air Force Base Armament Museum. The 919th Special Operations Wing's gunships, all around 40 years old, had reached the age of mandatory retirement. The only other gunships in the Air Force inventory are employed by active-duty members at Hurlburt Field, which has less than 20 gunships assigned.

The AC-130H ALQ-172 ECM Upgrade installs and modifies the ALQ-172 with low band jamming capability for all AC-130H aircraft. It also modifies the ALQ-172 with engineering change proposal-93 to provide increased memory and flight line reprogramming capabilities. The Air Force [WR-ALC/LUKA] issued a sole source, fixed price contract, to International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) for development of low band jammer and subsequent production. Issue a competitive, firm fixed price contract for the Group A modifications (preparing aircraft to receive jammers).

Currently funded weight reduction and center of gravity (CG) improvements to the AC-130H aircraft include: redesign of 40mm and 105mm ammo racks using lighter weight materials; reverse engineering of 40mm and 105mm trainable gun mounts using lighter weight material; and removal of non-critical armor. These efforts are performed by a sole source contract awarded to Rock Island Arsenal. [1]

AC-130U Spooky Edit

Continuing the distinguished combat history of side-firing AC-130 gunships, the new AC-130U Spectre gunship is being fielded as a replacement for the AC-130A aircraft. This program acquires 13 new basic C-130H aircraft for modification and integration by Boeing to the AC-130U Gunship configuration. The AC-130U gunship airframe is integrated with an armor protection system (APS), high resolution sensors (All Light Level Television (ALLTV), infrared detection set (IDS) and strike radar), avionics and EW systems, a sophisticated software controlled fire control system, and an armament suite consisting of side-firing, trainable 25mm, 40mm, and 105mm guns. The strike radar provides the first gunship capability for all weather/night target acquisition and strike.

AC-130 Training

An AC-130U Spooky Gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron jettisons flares over an area near Hurlburt Field, Florida, on August 20, 2008. The flares are used as a countermeasure to heat-seeking missiles that can track aircraft during real-world missions.

The acquisition program for this new gunship evolved from a Congressional mandate in the mid-1980s to revitalize the special operations force capabilties. Following the contract award to Rockwell in July 1987, the aircraft was first flown on 20 December 1990. FY92 procurement funding was increased to provide the 13th aircraft to replace the AC-130H lost during Desert Storm. Upon completing an exhaustive flight test program at Air Force Flight Test Center from 1991 to 1994 the first aircraft was delivered to AFSOC on July 1, 1994. Boeing’s contract includes: concurrent development, aircraft production, flight test, and delivery. All aircraft have been delivered and the program is transitioning to the sustainment phase. A competitive contract for sustainment was awarded in July 1998.

The AC-130U is the most complex aircraft weapon system in the world today. It has more than 609,000 lines of software code in its mission computers and avionics systems. The newest addition to the command fleet, this heavily armed aircraft incorporates side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods, at night and in adverse weather. The sensor suite consists of an All Light Level Television system and an infrared detection set. 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. Navigational devices include the inertial navigation system (INS) and global positioning system (GPS). The aircraft is pressurized, enabling it to fly at higher altitudes, saving fuel and time, and allowing for greater range than the AC-130H. Defensive systems include a countermeasures dispensing system that releases chaff and flares to counter radar infrared-guided anti-aircraft missiles. Also infrared heat shields mounted underneath the engines disperse and hide engine heat sources from infrared-guided anti-aircraft missiles.

The AC-130U P3I program develops and procures modifications that correct software and hardware deficiencies of the AC-130U fleet discovered during flight tests and that were outside the scope of the original FY86 contract. These modifications will include the following: combine all necessary software requirements for the System Integration Test (SIT) system and hardware and software improvements for the APQ-180 strike radar system; upgrade the Tactical Situation Map; improve core avionics and computers required for the multi-mission advanced tactical terminal/integrated defense avionics system installation; upgrade the EW suite; and modify the software/hardware required for the trainable gun mounts. Return to Top

The AC-130H/U, AAQ-26 Infrared Detection Set (IDS) Upgrade program modifies the optics on the AN/AAQ-17 Infrared Detection Set (IDS) currently installed on 13 AC-130U and 8 AC-130H Gunship aircraft to the AN/AAQ-26 configuration. The AC-130U wiring, Operational Flight Program (OFP), Control Displays Program (CDP), Trackhandle, bus multiplier (BMUX), control panels, and variable slow rate feature will be modified. The AC-130H will also be modified. Support equipment, spares, and tech data for both aircraft will be modified as required to support the AN/AAQ-26 configuration. Mission requirements dictate a significant enhancement in target detection, recognition, and identification ranges to decrease aircraft vulnerability. A sole source fixed price incentive contract was awared to Raytheon for design, modification, and installation; with directed sub to Lockheed Aerospace Systems Ontario (LASO) for integration of the AN/AAQ-26 on the AC-130H and Rockwell for software integration of the AN/AAQ-26 on the AC-130U.

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has a requirement for a C-130 engine infrared (IR) signature suppression system to provide Special Operations Forces (SOF) C-130 aircraft with an IR signature reduction equal to or better than existing systems at a lower cost of ownership. The primary difficulties with present suppressor systems are low reliability and poor maintainability. This C-130 Engine Infrared Suppression (EIRS) Program system will be used on AC-130H/U, MC-130E/H/P, and EC-130E aircraft. The key requirements for the Engine IR Suppression system are: (a) improved reliability and maintainability over existing systems to result in lower total cost of ownership; (b) IR signature suppression levels as good as the current engine shield system (aka. Tubs); (c) no adverse impacts to aircraft performance and ability to accomplish SOF missions; (d) complete interchangeability between engine positions and identified aircraft types. The suppressor is expected to be a semi-permanent installation, with removal being primarily for servicing, allowing the aircraft to perform all required missions with the suppressors installed. There will be up to two competitive contracts awarded for the initial phases of development with a downselect to one contractor for the completion of development and production. The contract will contain fixed price options for procurement, installation, and sustainment of the system. The Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) program develops and procures 60 systems and provides 59 SOF aircraft (AC-130H/U, MC-130E/H) with a DIRCM system capability. The DIRCM system will work in conjunction with other onboard self-protection systems to enhance the aircraft’s survivability against currently deployed infrared guided missiles. Growth is planned to add a capability to detect and counter advanced threats. Execution of this program is in concert with a joint US/UK cooperative development/ production effort with the UK as lead. Development and acquisition of the DIRCM system will be in accordance with UK procurement laws/regulations. UK designation for this program is "Operational Emergency Requirements 3/89." [2]

Mission Edit

Lockheed AC-130A Azrael USAF

The Lockheed AC-130H/U is a fixed-wing, side-firing aerial gunship that provides close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include air base defense and facilities defense. Secondary missions include armed reconnaissance, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue. [3]

Background Edit

During the 1950s, the C-130 Hercules was originally designed as an assault transport but was readily adapted for a variety of missions, including weather reconnaissance, mid-air space capsule recovery, search and rescue, drone launching, and mid-air refueling of helicopters. The AC-130H "Spectre" and AC-130U "Spooky II" are Hercules transports that have been converted into side-firing gunships, primarily for night attacks against ground targets.

Originally, C-130As were converted into side-firing gunships during Project Gunship II and the follow-on programs, Projects Plain Jane, Surprise Package and Pave Pronto. The prototype AC-130A (#54-1626), previously designated JC-130A, was tested at Eglin AFB, FL and in Southeast Asia during 1967. A short-nose Hercules, it was a basic C-130A with the addition of four 7.62mm General Electric XMU-470 Miniguns, four 20mm General Electric M61 Vulcan cannons, an analog fire control computer, a Night Observation Device (NOD) or Starlite Scope, a "bread board" computer, and a 20kW searchlight. Project Gunship II was a great success.

In 1968, seven more JC-130A aircraft were converted, although these were equipped with better Texas Instruments AN/AAD-4 Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), a Singer-General Precision fire control computer, a Texas Instruments Moving Target Indicator (MTI), and other equipment to reach current C-130A production standard. These aircraft were deployed to Southeast Asia in late-1968. They were painted black overall and also known as "Plain Janes", to distinguish them from the "Surprise Package" and "Pave Pronto" AC-130As.

The single "Surprise Package" AC-130A was equipped with two 40mm Bofors cannons (in place of the aft pair of 20mm Vulcans), General Electric ASQ-145 Low-Level Light Television (LLLTV), a Konrad AVQ-18 laser designator/rangefinder, and a new AYK-9 digital fire control computer. This gunship conversion was an even greater success than those before it!

AC-130A 20MM Vulcan Cannon Ammo belt

The "Pave Pronto" AC-130As were all based on the "Surprise Package" design, but featured additional equipment including an AN/ASD-5 Black Crow Direction Finder Set to find the emissions of the ignition system of Russian truck engines. These ten aircraft were first painted in the typical Vietnam three-tone camouflage scheme, but later the underside and the sides were painted black. All AC-130As often carried ALQ-87 ECM pods or SUU-42A/A Ejector Pods (starboard for flares, port for chaff) under the wings.

Because of C-130A airframe limitations, a new program was incorporated using the low-time C-130E as the basis for the gunship conversion. Eleven C-130Es were converted featuring the same equipment and armament as the "Pave Pronto" AC-130A, and become known as the "Pave Spectre" AC-130E. The first aircraft arrived in Southeast Asia in October 1971.

Beginning in 1973, Project Pave Spectre II upgraded all but one of the AC-130Es with new Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, the latest radio, avionics and ECM gear, a 105mm Howitzer cannon and inflight refueling capability. These aircraft were redesignated AC-130H.

AC-130A pylon turn

Over a decade later, in 1986, another Hercules gunship program was initiated. Thirteen new C-130H aircraft were procured from Lockheed then modified with improved armament, avionics, battle management sensors and countermeasures. The resulting gunship aircraft was designated AC-130U and entered service in 1995.

On 10 September 1995, the Air Force commemorated the end of an era with the retirement of the first C-130 aircraft to come off the production line, tail number 53-3129. Produced by Lockheed in 1953, it was affectionately dubbed the "First Lady", and was one of five AC-130A gunship aircraft retired during an official ceremony. While the other four aircraft were sent to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, the "First Lady" went on permanent display at the Eglin AFB Armament Museum in Florida. Note: The AC-130A gunship prototype (#54-1626) was retired in 1976 and is currently on display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. [4]

Combat History Edit

The formidable AC-130 gunships have an impressive combat history. During Vietnam, they destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. Following the end of the Vietnam War they saw action during the attempted rescue of the crew of the USS Mayaguez (1975), Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada (1983), Operation Just Cause in Panama (1989), Operation Desert Storm in Iraq (1991), Operation Restore Hope in Somalia (1993-1994), and Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia (1995).

Although the AC-130 gunship programs were considered highly successful, the slow-moving airplane was very susceptible to ground fire. Consequently, eight AC-130s have been lost during combat operations. The first casualty took place when tail number 54-1629 was hit over Laos and crashed during a landing attempt at Ubon, Thailand. A second AC-130 fell to enemy fire over Laos in April 1970. The third and fourth losses took place within hours of each other in the spring of 1972, and a fifth was shot down a few weeks later while supporting friendly forces during the siege of An Loc in South Vietnam. A sixth gunship was shot down over Laos in December 1972. A total of 75 crewmembers were lost in the AC-130 mission in Southeast Asia, before hostilities ended in 1975. Since that time two other AC-130s have fallen in both Kuwait and Somalia.

On 31 January 1991, the first AC-130H was lost in combat while supporting coalition forces engaged in ground combat during the battle of Khafji in Operation Desert Storm. A second aircraft supporting operations in Somalia was lost on 15 March 1994 when the 105mm cannon exploded while the aircraft was airborne. The eight remaining AC-130H "Spectre" gunships are still flying with the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), part of the 16th Special Operations Wing (SOW), at Hurlburt Field, Florida. [5]

AC-130U 'Spooky II' Edit

The AC-130U, commonly referred to as "U-Boat", is the most complex aircraft weapons system in the world today. It has more than 609,000 lines of software code in its mission computers and avionics systems. The newest addition to the command fleet, it is the latest in a long line of heavily-armed, side-firing gunships and is named "Spooky II" in honor of the first gunship model, the AC-47D. All other AC-130s are referred to as "Spectre". The prototype AC-130U (#87-0128) made its first flight on 20 December 1990. The initial flight test period lasted through 21 December 1991 and consisted of 48 test flights, a total of 165 hours.

The "Spooky II" gunship program consists of 13 new Lockheed C-130H airframes modified by Boeing with improved armament, advanced sensors, a Hughes APG-180 fire control radar system, GPS, the ALQ-172 Electronic Countermeasure System, an ALR-56M radar warning receiver, an APR-46A panoramic receiver, and an AAR-44 infrared warning receiver integrated with a series of ALE-40 chaff & flare dispensers. The modifications allow the aircraft to perform the full range of special operations and conventional gunship missions, at night and in adverse weather. These aircraft also have the capability to loiter for long periods over targets, while providing precision fire support.

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.

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.

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. [6]


References Edit

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