Guide AC-130H/U Gunships

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The Spooky is being replaced with a newer gunship, the ACJ Ghostrider, which boasts greater precision firepower, as well as the new ability to carry laser-guided missiles and bombs. The gunship concept dates to the Vietnam War, when World War II-era C transports were fitted with side-firing Gatling guns to provide close air support for remote outposts, as well as rain bullets on enemy convoys navigating the Ho Chi Minh trail.

The concept proved so popular the Air Force modified C Hercules transports to take over the role. Various types of gunships have served since, including in the invasion of Panama, Gulf War, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The aircraft was fitted with multispectral television sensors, high-definition infrared sensors, and radar, allowing the man crew to pinpoint enemy forces and engage them with autocannons and a millimeter howitzer.

AC-130 - Role

Zoom stick and boom stick Between the 30mm and the mm cannons is the MOP, or Mission Operator Pallet — two stations, one for WSOs like Beers and one for an enlisted sensor operator, each with multiple video screens and instruments controlling the array of cameras and sensors that help the crew target, and another control used to fire weapons. It uses some instruments borrowed from the F, which Beers said helps save money.

Beers demonstrated how he uses the "zoom stick" to turn the plane's cameras degrees and toggle between a standard view and infrared, switch the infrared's polarity, and tweak the image for better resolution. He pointed it toward a light pole far off in the distance on the tarmac and zoomed in — and zoomed, and zoomed, and zoomed again, until a tiny red bulb on top of the light pole filled the screen, pixelated and shimmering beneath the thermal heat radiating up. From the MOP, crew members must absorb a massive amount of information for their situational awareness — where friendly troops and aircraft are, where enemies and their vehicles are, where civilians are — using radio communications, emails, targeting data, and video beamed in from other sources, such as command headquarters.

The AGMA Griffin missiles are the centerpiece of the Ghostrider's precision-strike package — and part of what makes it truly stand above its predecessors.

AC-130U Power, Specifications, and Crew

The plane carries 10 Griffins, which are essentially half-scale Hellfire missiles that are laser-guided, with a fragmentation warhead and a GPS backup to ensure it lands on target. Each Griffin stands nose-up in a roughly 4-foot-tall tube mounted in its tail. When it's time to fire, the Griffin is electrically launched out of the back of the plane, pops out its fins, and orients itself into the windstream.

When it's far enough away, its rocket motor fires and it "goes screaming off past the plane," Beers said. Master Sgt.

But those missiles — being precision-guided munitions — are much more expensive than the 30mm or mm shells, Beers said. So they're typically reserved for the highest-priority targets that must be hit with the greatest accuracy.

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All the various weapons on board allow the crew to gradually escalate the amount of force used to meet the threat. Frickin' lasers.

And it could get even cooler. I've got the space, I've got the weight, and I've got the power. Heithold floated the idea of first using a laser -- possibly mounted in place of the mm gun — in a defensive capacity, to take down an enemy missile fired at the ACJ.

Deadly AC Gunship in Action Firing All Its Cannons | Smithsonian

But eventually, Heithold said, he envisioned using it for offense, to disable enemy aircraft or other vehicles. Such a laser could have come in handy during the capture of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, he said.

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During that operation, four Navy SEALs died in the process of destroying his boat and airplane to keep him from escaping. You haven't spooked anybody, you've simply disabled the aircraft. Beers agreed that a silent laser would be a great weapon to have at his disposal. The laser would "give us an advantage, and be able to just take out a truck from miles away, without nobody knowing," Beers said.

Heithold has also suggested buttressing the plane's capabilities with small drones to help it fight in heavy cloud cover. When targets are under thick clouds, he said, the J can't identify and hit them. But if the plane could launch a drone from its rear tubes, instead of the usual missile, Heithold said it could fly below the clouds and target the enemy. Beers also said a drone could help in mountainous terrain, or in areas with heavy fire that would otherwise endanger the J. It would "give us an advantage over previous generation gunships at that point.

A lighter aircraft -- but at what cost? But there's more than just its weaponry that makes the Ghostrider remarkable. The Griffins are laser-guided with fragmentation warheads and GPS sensors to ensure target hits.

AC-130 gunships are using this rifle sight to ‘zero-in’ on bad guys

Eventually, the Air Force plans to field lasers on the Ghostrider. Last year, Col. Special Operations troops on the ground are going to have a very upgraded AC at their disposal beginning in late or And with the threat around the world ever increasing, the ability to protect them from all threats is always a top priority.

And inside of the tried and tested airframe of the AC, the lethality of our troops on the ground has just been increased.