AC-130H/U SPECTRE GUNSHIP
These heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower during extended loiter periods, at night and in adverse weather. Spectre has an impressive combat history. 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.
Gunships had a starring 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, Spectre was credited with saving many friendly lives.
The AC-130 Gunship is a basic C-130 modified with side mounted guns and various sensors that make it highly adaptable to a variety of special missions. The Gunship can provide sustained and surgically precise firepower in a variety of scenarios. Within permissive environments, the AC-l30 is effective in the following roles:
· Close Air Support (CAS)
· Armed Reconnaissance
· Point Defense
· Escort (Convoy, Naval, Train, Rotary
· Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR)
· Landing/Drop Zone (LZ/ DZ) Support
· Limited Airborne Command and
The side-firing gunship delivers ordnance while in a pylon turn around the target. Targets are visible and can be attacked throughout the entire orbit and attack run-in headings are usually not desired. The gunship is particularly effective at troops in contact (TIC) fire support.
Firing altitude depends on terrain, threat environment, and weather. Gun selection depends on target type and damage desired. To limit collateral damage, a live-fire area may be required to boresight weapons prior to employment. The gunship weapons do not have a hard-kill capability against heavy armor or bunkers. However, the 105mm has Superquick fuses with both point detonation and 0.05 sec delay, concrete penetrators, and proximity fuses for airburst. All 20mm, 25mm, and 40mm have point detonate fuses.
No-fire headings may be imposed or may be established by the aircrew, due to ordnance ricochet fans when the target is between the gunship and the friendly position.
· Fire No Closer Than:
· 500 meters with the 20mm/25mm/40mm
· 650 meters with the 105mm
· No Fire Headings Closer Than:
· 1600 meters with the 20mm
· 2000 meters with the 25mm
· 950 meters with the 40mm
· 700 meters with the 105mm
The ground forces commander must accept responsibility each time ordnance is requested inside of the Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manual (JMEM) Danger Close range.
· JMEM Danger Close Range for the 20mm/25mm/40mm: inside 125 meters
· JMEM Danger Close Range for the 105mm: inside 200 meters
Although the AC-130H and AC-130U use very dissimilar avionics and other systems, fire support to the ground party is generally comparable. The capabilities of the AC-130U will not be required for most fire support missions, but provide benefits under certain circumstances. The following describes some of the most important employment differences:
· The strike radar gives the AC-130U improved adverse weather capability.
· Dual target attack allows the AC-130U to service two targets simultaneously. Fairly restrictive parameters must be met to employ this technique. Crew restrictions also apply.
· The 25mm gun on the AC-130U can be brought to bear quickly because it is trainable, and can be employed throughout much of the gunship flight envelope. The 25mm is only effective against soft targets. Portions of the 25mm gun system are still under development, and this weapon is not as reliable as a mature system.
· The pressurization system on the AC-130U improves deployability and range.
· The AC-130U sensor system is still evolving. Recent improvements to the LLLTV on the H model have improved its performance over the ALLTV,giving it 8 different magnifications and improved optics over the ALLTV. Upgrades to the IR on both aircraft are scheduled to occur within a couple of years. The AC-130H has already received 2 major IR upgrades since 1990.
· The defensive avionics on the AC-130U are the same as those on the AC-130H, but in certain threat environments the AC-130H is better due to recent software upgrades. Detailed threat analysis must be accomplished for specific missions.
· PPN-19 and SST-181 can be used with both the AC-130E and U.
Limited Threat Capability
· Mission success is largely determined by the threat.
· The AC-l30 operates best during cover of darkness. It is extremely vulnerable during daylight operation and is most suited for operations in a low threat environment. By operating over an overcast, the AC-130U can degrade daylight threats, but must rely on the radar as its only sensor.
· Mission execution and desired objectives are seriously degraded by radar guided anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles, and some IR MANPAD systems. If radar threats are known or suspected, preemptive jamming or SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) is required. SEAD is preferable.
· Certain threats may dictate higher employment altitudes. This should be considered in mission planning, as sensor resolution decreases with altitude. As range increases fire control accuracy degrades slightly, reducing the gunships ability to hit point targets.
· The threat environment limits the use of laser illuminators (the "BURN"), as it illuminates both the aircraft and the ground party to anyone properly equipped.
· All missions benefit from face-to-face briefings, especially fire support missions.
· Common imagery, comm-out procedures, charts, and local operating procedures enhance mission success.
· Normal special operations missions planning-to-execution cycle covers 72 hours, but may be shortened due to specific mission constraints. Normal tactical mission planning- to-execution cycle is approximately 24 hours.
· AC-l30 performance is marginal at altitudes above 15,000 feet MSL due to high gross weights and aircraft performance limitations.
· AC-l30 operations from Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) with high field elevations and/or high density altitudes require analysis by gunship planners for mission limitations.
· Limited number of aircraft and single home operating location makes covert deployment difficult.
· Large crews and extensive support package contribute to significant mission signature. Unimproved airfields are not acceptable due to high gross weights, performance limitations, and sensitive avionics.
· Gunship weapons have no hard-kill capability against heavy, or reactive armor, reinforced bunkers, etc.
· Prime Contractor: Lockheed Aircraft Co.
· Horsepower: 3,750 equivalent shaft power
· Wingspan: 132 ft. 7 in
· Length: 97 ft. 9 in
· Height: 38 ft. 6 in
· Unrefueled range (combat ammo load): 1500 NM Unlimited with air refueling
· Unrefueled combat radius (1 hour loiter): 500 NM
· Speed: 250 Knots (True Airspeed) cruise. 300 mph (at sea level)
· Maximum gross weight: 155,000 lbs
· Emergency gross weight (WAR): 175,000 lbs
· Fuel load: 40,000 lbs (Inflight refuelable)
· Fuel type: JP-8
· Fuel consumption: 6,000 pounds per hour. 6,500 during low level
· Crew rest: 12 hours
· Tactical crew duty day: 12 hours. (16 hours with augmentation)
· Crew complement may vary depending on the mission type and duty day. Crew requirements for ferrying are less.
· Minimum tactical crew: AC-130U - 13; AC-130H - 14
· Maximum crew: 21
Time on Station
· Unless continuous surveillance is required, the AC-130 holds outside the target area to limit exposure of the aircraft and the ground party.
· Vulnerability increases with time spent over target, as the element of surprise is lost and chance for acquisition by the enemy increases.
· The AC-130U has a good capability to deliver ordnance during adverse weather using the APQ-180 radar. The AC-130H has limited adverse weather capability using its electronic sensors.
· A ground controller may be present to correct the AC-130U gunfire for target, range, and magnetic bearing from the location of a beacon or reference point due to adverse weather. A ground controller is required for AC-130H adverse weather delivery.
· Visual sensors are seriously degraded by weather to include fog, haze, smoke, and clouds.
Marking devices can expedite identification of friendly forces, improving fire support responsiveness and limiting the exposure time for the gunship. Beacons provide a rapid means to identify and update the friendly position. During instrument meteorological conditions beacons are the only way for the AC-130H to locate friendly positions. Radar reflective items may also be used with the AC-130U radar. These are line-of-sight methods, and are normally used with OFFSET firing mode. Beacon/reference point offsets should not normally exceed 1500 meters (1000 meters for Dual Target Attack - AC-130U only). Offset firing is not as accurate as direct mode of fire and are normally used in poor weather conditions with the ground commander or team leader calling misses and corrections to the aircraft. As a rule, the shorter the offset distance, the more accurate the weapon. The AC-130U can track the PPN-19 and SST-181 beacons using the strike radar. The AC-130H can track the PPN-19, SST-181, PRD-7880 (TEMIG) and personal locator system (PLS) beacons, but TEMIG and PLS are poor for offset firing.
Other Marking Devices
· Strobe Light
· Flashlights And Vehicle Lights
· Fire Flies
· "Chem" Lights
· Reflective Tape
· Pen Gun Flares
· Signaling Mirrors
· Laser pointers (LPL-30, GPC-1a, etc.)
· Tracer Fire
· Mortar/Artillery Marking Rounds
· FRIENDLY LOCATION - Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM), range in meters, magnetic bearing from reference point, etc. Include all friendly locations.
· FRIENDLY MARK - Beacons, IR strobe lights, flares, etc.
· TARGET LOCATIONS - UTM coordinates, range and bearing from observer, Target Reference Point (TRP), etc.
· TARGET DESCRIPTIONS - Number and type.
· TARGET MARKING - Sparkle (i.e. LPL-30), tracer, etc.
Close Air Support (CAS) and Troops in Contact (TIC)
The AC-l30 is an excellent low threat, night CAS platform. The gunship can provide surgical fire support with limited collateral damage, and it can remain on station for extended periods of time. The visual sensors and radar (AC-130U) provide real-time reconnaissance of the employment area. Unlike other fixed-wing aircraft, CAS assets which must have qualified forward area controllers (FAC) for ordnance delivery in proximity to friendlies, the AC-130 self-FACs, so ordinance delivery can be controlled by fire support officers, team leaders, etc. Since the AC-130 delivers ordnance through a pylon turn, the target is usually visible and may be engaged throughout the entire orbit. As a result, run-in headings are not appropriate. The first consideration for CAS missions is to positively identify the friendly position. Various marking devices may be used by friendly forces to expedite acquisition. Radio contact with the ground forces will be maintained at all times during firing, unless preplanned comm-out procedures are coordinated in advance. The following CAS guide is a briefing guide designed specifically for the gunship. To reduce communications during preplanned missions, coordinate as much of this information as possible in advance. The J-Fire "nine-line" briefing may be used, but it is inefficient and less desirable.
Air Interdiction is defined as air operations conducted to destroy, neutralize, or delay the enemy's potential before it can be brought to bear effectively against friendly forces. At such distances that detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of friendly forces is not required. The gunship is best suited to strike small targets in a permissive environment where limited collateral damage is required. The gunship's accuracy, low yield munitions, and target identification capability reduces the risk of collateral damage. However, the gunship lacks both great hitting power and area coverage capability, which limits the potential for damage to hardened or large area targets.
Armed Reconnaissance is flown with the primary purpose of locating and attacking targets of opportunity (i.e. enemy material, personnel, and facilities) in assigned or general areas or along assigned lines of communication (LOC), and not for the purpose of attacking specific briefed targets. The gunship can effectively search LOCs, however the narrow field of view of the sensors limits the gunship's ability to search large areas. The time required to perform armed reconnaissance must be considered with respect to the threat.
Helicopter, Landing Zone (LZ), and Drop Zone (DZ) Support
The gunship can provide escort, LZ/DZ security, and fire support for helicopter operations. Mission accomplishment is achieved through a joint pre-brief of route, special procedures, and establishment of a communications net (fire support coordination net). The gunship can assist helicopters in search and rescue missions as necessary. Helicopter use of beacons greatly aids in vectoring. The gunship can provide LZ/DZ weather and threat updates to all participating aircraft. The gunship can also destroy unrecoverable loads that have landed off a DZ and should not fall into enemy hands.
Fighter Escort Operations
Fighters can operate with the gunship as part of a strike package. Fighter assets provide additional strike capability with greater standoff, hard-target kill capability, and larger area suppression weapons. Fighters can also provide real time threat suppression in the target area and during enroute portions of the mission. Operations with fighter aircraft require effective teamwork between the dissimilar aircraft and increases the complexity of crew coordination on the gunship. Flexibility and situational awareness must be maintained at all times. The gunship can act as a strike coordinator for its fighter escort, and may be used to control other strike aircraft. The gunship's strike coordinator capabilities include:
· Marking targets with aircraft weapons (sparkling)
· Using natural references such as providing information from visible terrain features, ground markers, or easily distinguished fires in the area
· Designate targets using laser target designator
· Provide strike aircraft with Battle Damage Assessment (BDA)
This mission is essentially a preplanned CAS mission. The situation may allow for in-depth planning and coordination, but procedures are the same as for any CAS scenario.
Another version of CAS is escort. The gunship can provide convoy, naval, train, helicopter escort/vectoring surveillance and limited protection of friendlies from enemy ambush. Communications with the supported commander are essential. Mission accomplishment is achieved through a joint brief of route, special procedures, and establishment of a communications net. Ground parties using electronic beacons greatly aid in force vectoring.
The night capabilities of the gunship, combined with its range and endurance make the gunship a viable reconnaissance platform. The gunship has the capability to record all the sensors, with audio and video imagery. The gunship is more vulnerable to enemy threats than other tactical reconnaissance platforms.
The gunship can support combat recovery operations in a permissive environment. These missions include combined operations with helicopters and fighters. Because of the potential complexity of these missions, thorough mission planning is essential.
Limited Airborne Command and Control
The gunship can be used to relay information between ground parties, or as a ground-to-air or air-to-air liaison on a limited basis. Planners must realize that any planned use of the gunship in this capacity could adversely affect the gunship's tactical mission and therefore must be weighed carefully.
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