Super Spook gets a new set of eyes

Super Spook gets a new set of eyes
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January 15, 2005 "Super Spook", one of the most frightening offensive weapons on the planet, is getting an upgrade. "Super Spook" started out life as an inoffensive transport plane. Big, slow, and capable of carrying heavy things, most folks didn't think the plane really had what it takes to cut it in the heat of battle. But when the American military decided to fill the plane with massive firepower, the result surprised everyone. "Super Spook"was the name given by the people who flew them and from the time it flew its first combat mission on 27 September 1967, the plane has been regularly upgraded with more and better weaponry, and phenomenal eyesight in any conditions, giving it a massive night-time capability.

The 16th Special Operations Squadron (16 SOS) that flew the plane is credited with having used it to destroy 10,000 trucks on the famous Ho Chi Minh trail and flew a remarkable 1,327 consecutive on-time combat missions in them, losing several planes along the way due to their vulnerability as a slow-moving target.

Raise the ire of "Super Spook" and look out.

It is capable of accurately delivering what has often been described as a 'wall of metal' via its array of large-calibre rapid fire cannons and long-range machine guns. As evolution and new technologies have become available, the AC-130U Gunship has slowly built the most complex aircraft weapon system in the world. It has over 600,000 lines of software code in its mission computers and avionics systems.

The third generation AC-130U 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 armour 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.

One of the plane's strengths is that it has been blessed with long-range capabilities (over 1500 nautical miles), so it can hang around the combat theatre for long periods of time without needing to refuel.

The earlier version of the current AC-130 made a name for itself in Vietnam and has also been deployed with success (although at least two have recently been lost) in Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, and most recently Afghanistan and Iraq. The AC-130 enters the fray after initial carpet bombing raids deplete surface-to-air defences.

Lockheed Martin has now received a US$10.7 million contract from Boeing Integrated Defence Systems (IDS) to provide the Gunship Multispectral Sensor System (GMS2) for the AC-130U. The initial contract is for the system's development phase with production options that could result in a total program value of $35 million.

GMS2 will serve as the multi-spectral sensor for the four new AC-130U Gunships being procured by the Air Force, and replaces the All Light Level TV (ALLTV) sensor currently on the AC-130U. GMS2 integrates third-generation infrared sensing technology with image intensified low-light TV cameras and a suite of lasers to enable the AC-130U to perform its Gunship missions with far greater effectiveness. Boeing IDS is the prime contractor for the AC-130U upgrade program.

The Lockheed Martin GMS2 is a variant of the Hawkeye Target Sight System, which is now in flight testing on the U.S. Marine Corps' AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopter.

"Recent GMS2 sensor tests conducted at the White Sands Missile Range demonstrated the suitability of our system to fulfil the mission requirements of the AC-130U," said John Curry, Lockheed Martin GMS2 program manager. "We believe that what our customer witnessed, in terms of our performance, was key to helping us win the competition."

"Selection of a Hawkeye variant by Boeing and the Air Force for GMS2 validates our commitment to providing the most advanced sensor capabilities available for meeting our customer's needs," said Tom Simmons, vice president, Fire Control line of business, at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

Lockheed Martin will build and deliver five systems plus spares under the GMS2 contract as well as provide integration support and product support services to Boeing. The contract will be completed by the Q3 of 2006.

Specs:AC-130H Spectre AC-130U SpookyPrimary Function: Close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissanceContractor: Lockheed Aircraft Corp.Power Plant: Four Allison turboprop engines T56-A-15Thrust: Each engine 4,910 horsepowerLength: 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 refuelling 2,200 nautical milesUnlimited with air refuellingCeiling: 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 roundsone L60 40mm Bofors cannon with 256 roundsone 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 systemCrew: 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, co-pilot, 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

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