Capable of accurately delivering a 'wall of metal' via its array of large-calibre rapid fire cannons and long-range machine guns, the AC-130U Gunship carries the most complex aircraft weapon system in the world today with over 600,000 lines of software code in its mission computers and avionics systems.
The third generation AC-130U - dubbed Spooky - is a heavily armed adaptation of the Hercules transport aircraft equipped with side-firing 105mm howitzer and 40mm Bofors cannons, twin 20mm Vulcan cannons which fire 6,600 rounds per minute and a 25mm GAU-12 Gatling gun that can fire up to 1,800 rounds per minute. Reportedly these weapons are never fired simultaneously due to ammunition considerations - small comfort for anyone in the firing line.
The AC-130U incorporates a laser-targeted designator - used to 'paint' targets so that missiles can seek the reflected energy - with All Light Level Television, infra-red, radar sensors and satellite data to lock its weapons onto a fixed target and maintain aim whilst circling above.
The aircraft is capable of simultaneously targeting two areas up to 1km apart in this way, even in adverse weather or at night, and when its finished, the devastation can be the size of a soccer field.Given its lumbering size and relatively slow airspeed of less than 482kph, the propeller driven AC-130U is vulnerable to attack from anti-aircraft weapons and is usually sent in to support ground troops after effective air defences are destroyed. For this reason its on-board sophistication also extends to an armor protection system and a range of countermeasures - including missile warning capabilities and heat shields to mask the engines - as well as navigation, targeting, weapons systems and fire-control systems.
The flipside is that 'Spooky', with its range of over 1500 nautical miles, can hang around the combat zone for long periods of time without needing to refuel.As well as close air support for troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations, the AC-130 gunship's primary missions include missions against pre-planned targets and air base defense.
The earlier version of the current AC-130 a was credited with destroying more than 10,000 trucks in Vietnam and the aircraft have also been deployed with success (although at least two have recently been lost) in Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, and most recently Afghanistan where they entered the conflict on 16 October 2001, after the initial carpet bombing raids had depleted al-Qaida surface to air defences.
Specs: AC-130H Spectre AC-130U Spooky Primary Function: Close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance Contractor: Lockheed Aircraft Corp. Power Plant: Four Allison turboprop engines T56-A-15 Thrust: Each engine 4,910 horsepower Length: 97 feet, 9 inches (29.8 meters) Height: 38 feet, 6 inches (11.7 meters) Maximum Takeoff Weight: 155,000 pounds (69,750 kilograms) Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches (40.4 meters) Range: 1,500 statute miles (1,300 nautical miles) Unlimited with air refueling 2,200 nautical miles Unlimited with air refueling Ceiling: 25,000 feet (7,576 meters) 30,000 ft. Speed: 300 mph (Mach 0.40) (at sea level) Armament: two M61 20mm Vulcan cannons with 3,000 rounds one L60 40mm Bofors cannon with 256 rounds one M102 105mm howitzer with 100 rounds One 25mm GAU-12 Gatling gun (1,800 rounds per minute) one L60 40mm Bofors cannon (100 shots per minute) one M102 105mm cannon(6-10 rounds per minute)* Countermeasures AN/AAQ-24 Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM)* AN/AAR-44 infrared warning receiver* AN/AAR-47 missile warning system* AN/ALE-47 flare and chaff dispensing system* AN/ALQ-172 Electronic Countermeasure System* AN/ALQ-196 Jammer* AN/ALR-69 radar warning receiver* AN/APR-46A panoramic RF receiver* QRC-84-02 infrared countermeasures system Crew: 14 -- five officers (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, fire control officer, electronic warfare officer); nine enlisted (flight engineer, loadmaster, low-light TV operator, infrared detection set operator, five aerial gunners) 13 total. Five officers (pilot, copilot, navigator, fire control officer, electronic warfare officer); 8 enlisted (flight engineer, All Light Level TV operator, infrared- detection set operator, four airborne gunners, loadmaster) Unit Cost: US$72 million