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 aircraft support.
Lockheed AC-130U Gunship Firing!
The gunship’s sole user is the United States Air Force, which uses AC-130U Spooky and AC-130W Stinger II variants for close air support, air interdiction, and force protection, with AC-130J Ghostrider in development. Close air support roles include supporting ground troops, escorting convoys, and 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 while AC-130Ws are based at Cannon AFB, New Mexico; gunships can be deployed worldwide.
Weaponry is mounted to fire from the port side of the non-pressurised aircraft. During an attack the gunship performs a pylon turn, flying in a large circle around a target, allowing it to fire for far longer than conventional attack aircraft. The AC-130H Spectre was armed with two 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannons, one Bofors 40mm autocannon, and one 105 mm M102 cannon; after 1994 the 20 mm cannons were removed for most missions.
The upgraded AC-130U “Spooky” has a single 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer in place of the Spectre’s twin 20 mm cannons, an improved fire control system, and increased ammunition capacity. New AC-130Js based on the MC-130J Combat Shadow II special operations tanker were planned as of 2012. The AC-130W is armed with one 30 mm Bushmaster cannon, AGM-176 Griffin missiles, and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.
The AC-130 gunship first arrived in South Vietnam on 21 September 1967 under the Gunship II program and began combat operations over Laos and South Vietnam that year. In June 1968, AC-130s were deployed to Tan Son Nhut AB near Saigon for support against the Tet Offensive.
By 30 October 1968, enough AC-130 Gunship IIs arrived to form a squadron, the 16th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. It was at this time that the C-130A gunship was designated the AC-130A.
AC-130s destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and participated in many crucial close air support missions in Vietnam. Six Spectres and 52 aircrew members were lost to enemy fire. On 24 May 1969, Spectre lost its first gunship.
During the Gulf War of 1990–91 (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm), Regular Air Force and Air Force Reserve AC-130s provided close air support and force protection (air base defense) for ground forces, and battlefield interdiction.
The U.S. has used gunships with deployments to the War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan) (2001–2014), and Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) (2003–11).