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The AC-130H/U Gunship

What is it? The AC-130 is an aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin Marietta (fondly known in the defense analysis biz as "LockMart" for its resemblance to a defense version of a certain well-known store). It is used by various arms of the United States military as a convenient means of:

  • Scaring the shit out of a lot of people at once
  • Killing a smaller number of people simultaneously
  • Destroying various types of ground targets.
Where did it come from? The AC-130H/U are the latest iterations of the fixed-wing gunship concept, and are follow-ons to the original gunship, the AC-47. It is built on the basic airframe of the C-130 Hercules, a medium intratheater transport aircraft popular in the Western world for its ruggedness, dependability and ability to operate from extremely rough airfields.

The AC-130U (the latest variant) has the official callsign of Spooky. Its predecessor the AC-130H was Spectre. Troops in Vietnam used to refer to the plane by these names, or as Puff the Magic Dragon. It was a companion to them, as it orbited their positions laying down covering fire; comments on the situation often included the line "Spooky understands."

For more information on this reference, you might try looking up the works of Michael Herr, notably Dispatches.

What does it use? The armament of the gunship has evolved over time, with one constant being the horrific amount of fire (colloq.: shitstorm) that it can bring onto even the most carefully hidden targets. To do this, it needs three basic component systems.

Sensors
Spooky sees farther into the electromagnetic spectrum than we do. In addition to television imaging sensors, it has infrared detectors for night use, and synthetic aperture radar for imaging 'hard' objects under soft cover (say, trees).

Navigation
In order to be effective, the AC-130 has to be able to find its targets. Modern versions use all forms of navaids from GPS to Inertial Navigation Systems.

Weapons
The AC-130H mounts a 105mm gun, a 40mm gun, and two 20mm Vulcan cannons. The -U replaces the latter with a single 25mm gun. Early variants (and present ones, as additional armament) can be fitted with miniguns.

What does it cost? The AC-130U costs (in fiscal 98 dollars) approximately $81.1 million. The AC-130H costs approximately $52.3 million. Your tax dollars at work, if you live in the United States and aren't a fugitive from the IRS.

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