AC-130U gunships become even Spookier

  • Published
  • By Jamie Haig
  • 1st SOW Public Affairs
The 4th Special Operations Squadron received four new aircraft with a new arsenal requiring new kind of training for the flight crews aboard the AC-130U Spooky gunships.

The new aircraft will sport two 30 mm guns to replace the existing 25 mm Gatling-gun and 40 mm Bofors cannon that have been a part of the airplane's firepower since its inception.

Another improvement for the U-model arsenal under consideration is the addition of another precision-guided missile - giving the gunship a precision strike capability. Add in the veteran 105 mm Howitzer, and the Spooky just got spookier.

"Right now we're in the modification stages of the four new aircraft," said Lt. Col. James Rodriguez, 4th SOS operations officer. "We're configuring software, doing test flights with the new equipment and training the initial test crews on the changes.

"The new weapons will allow us to have even more flexibility with the type and destructive force our platform can deliver to the teams on the ground."

The four aircraft also help relieve the pressure on the squadron's aircraft roster for daily functions such as pilot proficiency training, limited tactical training and daily training flights in conjunction with the 19th SOS.

"The addition of the aircraft increases sortie and training production at home station allowing us to build more crews and better absorb the high operations tempo down range," Colonel Rodriguez said.

He further stated that the weapons system is the most significant advancement in recent AC-130 development because it takes this platform from being an "accurate" weapons system to a "precision" system - which is important to the type of war we are fighting now.

The changes in the weapons systems affect not only the fire control officers but every crew position on the aircraft. Everyone will be trained on how the airplane will operate differently and how to plan and execute missions.

"We have an initial cadre of crewmembers that will fly through the test phases with the test squadrons," Colonel Rodriguez said. "We selected some of our strongest crew members and they're taking it one step further. They're already evolving tactics associated with the new weapons."

A lesser known, yet almost revolutionary change for the Spooky is the installation of a "fusion ball", which is a combination of an all light-level television and an infrared sensor. This combination sensor allows the crew to take the best attributes of both systems and use them simultaneously as they decipher the battle space below them.

"It's been a long road for this system," Colonel Rodriguez said. "This gives us a tremendous improvement in our ability to see the environment below us. This system is essential for improved positive identification of targets and friendly forces."

Finally, the Spooky gunship has taken recent delivery of a digital video recording system versus the old VHS tape style it used to employ. This new system allows a clearer and faster transfer of information to those who need it, whether in combat or training missions.

The digitization makes storage of these recordings easier in the 4th SOS library.

Crew members can access and study prior missions from a computer instead of a VCR. Teams can also receive almost instantaneous access to battle damage assessments after a mission.

"We have used this new capability countless times down range and all the users are very pleased with the improvement," Colonel Rodriguez said.

All training for the new systems is being done in-house at the 4th SOS. In the future, however, the 19th SOS will take up the training as part of their regular syllabus.

For now, many of the squadron members, some of who are approaching 2,000 combat flying hours, will take on the responsibilities of devising how the 4th SOS will employ these new systems in the gunship mission.

"We're excited about the new future of the squadron and the gunship mission," Colonel Rodriguez said. "Our combination of capable aircraft along with expert, combat-seasoned aircrew allows us to tailor a response as missions develop.

"Where most platforms offer one attribute like long loiter-time or advanced sensors, we bring it all together in one package," the colonel said. "The Spooky gunships are a pillar in the future of Air Force Special Operations Command."