Under a contract awarded in 1987, Boeing manufactures and supports the AC-130U Gunship aircraft for the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. The AC-130U represents a major advancement over previous generation gunships. Existing C-130 airframes receive the latest sensor technologies and fire control systems that, together, substantially increase the gunship's combat effectiveness. The AC-130U features increased weapon stand-off range, improved first-shot accuracy, and a state-of-the-art suite of electronic and infrared countermeasures that greatly enhance the AC-130U's survivability against modern threats. The AC-130U design also incorporates features to enhance maintainability and supportability.
The most significant changes in the AC-130U Gunship are enhancements and expansions to its sensor suite. Both the All Light Level Television and the Infrared Detection System can scan a full 360 degrees, allowing the gunship crew to search for and find targets much faster. The target detection and recognition ranges of both sensors are nearly double those of previous gunships. The television also incorporates a laser target designator and rangefinder that allows the AC-130U to designate targets for other aircraft armed with smart, laser-guided weapons. The gunship's target detection capability makes it a highly effective force multiplier. The AC-130U incorporates Night Vision Imaging System, with compatible lighting throughout to support use of night vision equipment by its crew.
The AC-130U features Raytheon's APQ-180 fire control radar system, derived from the system on F-15E Eagle aircraft. The APQ-180 system is integrated with the gunship's fire control system. This enables the radar not only to locate and track targets but also to track rounds from the gunships 40 mm and 105 mm guns and to adjust fire automatically. As a result, the AC-130U gunship is an all-weather, precision attack aircraft -- the only one of its kind.
The AC-130U Gunship integrates ring-laser gyro technology with precision locater capabilities of the Global Positioning Satellite, or GPS system. This provides the aircraft with its exact position and the precise location of any target detected by its sensors, reducing workload, speeding up target location and improving the precision of targeting information for other friendly forces.
Fire Control System
Today's AC-130U Gunship is more lethal than its predecessors, due to the addition of a GAU-12, 25 mm Gatling gun (similar to those on AV-8B Harrier aircraft). Firing at 1,800 shots per minute and mounted on a fully trainable gun mount, the GAU-12 provides twice the lethality of its former 20 mm cannons, a longer stand-off range and greater accuracy. The operator can select from a series of burst lengths to tailor effectiveness of the GAU-12 for each target due to a fully automated ammunition handling system, capable of carrying 3,000 rounds. The gunship also carries both a 40 mm Bofors cannon, capable of up to 100 shots per minute, and a 105 mm howitzer that can be fired six times a minute. To maximize accuracy, both large guns also are installed on trainable gun mounts. The AC-130U has a dual-target attack capability that allows it to attack simultaneously two targets located up to a kilometer apart. Its fire control system enables the AC-130U to destroy targets more quickly, expediting air-to-ground mission objectives while decreasing threat exposure time, which enhances aircraft survivability.
The AC-130U aircraft includes a complementary suite of both active and passive threat countermeasures, including the ALQ-172 Electronic Countermeasure System, to provide protection against radar-guided threats. The ALQ-172 is augmented by the ALR-56M radar warning receiver, used on the F-16 fighter. In addition, an APR-46A panoramic receiver alerts the crew to electronic emissions in the aircraft vicinity, enhancing early radar threat detection. Protection against infrared threats is provided by an AAR-44 infrared warning receiver integrated with a series of ALE-40 flare dispensers strategically placed around the aircraft. The ALE-40 also dispenses chaff to provide added protection against radar threats. The AC-130U Gunship is compatible with the newer generation ALE-47 flare and chaff dispensers. An 84-02A active infrared countermeasure system provides additional infrared missile protection. Passive countermeasures include lightweight Spectra armor to protect critical components and crew. All mission-essential avionics are dual redundant and physically separated to maintain mission capability in the event of battle damage. The AC-130U Gunship's system architecture allows the operators to reconfigure subsystems to maintain combat effectiveness in the event of component failure.
A highly integrated system of controls and displays increase operational effectiveness and enhance situational awareness. The AC-130U crew maintains full knowledge of the combat environment, system status and mission requirements to employ the gunship's weapons and sensors more quickly and effectively. Co-located in the battle-management center, the AC-130U Gunship's five-person tactical crew as well as its three-person flight deck crew, have access to a computer generated tactical situation map, TSM. The TSM provides situational awareness of the combat environment and enhances intra-crew communications. Exploiting the precision navigation and targeting capabilities of the AC-130U, the TSM displays threat locations and both friendly and enemy force positions. It also shows where the AC-130U Gunship's sensors and guns are tracking, which greatly reduces the possibility of friendly fire incidents.
The AC-130U Gunship is designed to avoid any single point of failure for mission critical systems, which maximizes the aircraft's availability to warfighters. While providing a two-level maintenance capability, the aircraft makes extensive use of built-in-testing of various components to develop a systems integrated test function that provides the maintainer with detailed diagnostics of AC-130U subsystems. The aircraft's fully integrated 1553 computer architecture speeds up troubleshooting and provides a means of tracking component performance throughout the life cycle of the system.