As the helicopters landed at Albrook Airbase, the men of A(-)/3-7th SF were told that H-Hour had been moved up 15 minutes to 0045. After hurriedly passing the word of the time change, the teams loaded the helicopters and were told to prepare for a hot landing zone (LZ). Within minutes the UH-60s were flying low and fast enroute to the Pacora River bridge. As the flight neared the LZ, headlights could be seen coming down the road from the direction of Battalion 2000's home at Ft. Cimmarron. The teams deployed immediately upon landing and fired into the lead vehicle with AT-4s and LAWs. With the convoy stopped, the attached Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) contacted the AC-130 on station. The AC-130 raked the convoy with precision fire. As the PDF soldiers fled and began firing on the U.S. positions, the AC-130 continued to put down suppressive fires as well as give the SF teams reports of where the enemy was moving. The teams held the Pacora River Bridge all night with the continued support of the AC-130, preventing the convoy from attacking the airdrop at Torrujos/Tocumen Airport.
All major units involved in JUST CAUSE used the AC-130. It provided precise direct fire, night surveillance and navigation assistance. The AC-130 was also used as a relay station for communications and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) requests. Ground units must become familiar with the AC-130 capabilities, as well as develop techniques to mark friendly unit locations and vehicles. Fire control and identification, friend or foe (IFF) were not generally a problem in open areas. However, fire control and IFF were very difficult at night in MOUT operations due to burning buildings, smoke, and numerous civilian vehicles. The AH-64 was also used to provide fire support, engaging several targets that were danger close to friendly units.
- The AC-130 is an excellent fire support system. Precision fire control and accurate weapons systems fit well with restrictive ROE and reduction of collateral damage.
- Optical sensors and low light-level television are surveillance aids for ground forces which the AC-130 can employ.
- The communications package and altitude for operations make the AC-130 excellent communications relay platform.
- Units must establish and practice communications and marking procedures for operations with the AC-130 firing danger close. One method uses GLINT tape on the corners of vehicles; however, when thermal sights are used these markings do not show.
- Units should use one or a combination of the following to mark friendly personnel, vehicles and positions: GLINT tape (personnel--eye to ear across top of helmet), infrared (IR) strobe lights, IR cellophane on flashlights, and IR chemlights.
- At night, request AC-130 paint target with IR spotlight before engaging to ensure positive identification of target.
- The AC-130 can be a significant navigation/identification aid for friendly units employing special marking/recognition signal moving in difficult terrain.
- Conventional units in conjunction with the TACP must train in all aspects of AC-130 employment.
- The AH-64 Attack Helicopter provided effective fire support. However, the Forward Looking Infrared Radar-Night Vision System (FLIR-NVS) only picks up thermal images and cannot distinguish visual or low-light markings such as GLINT tape. Units must establish and practice procedures for using the AH-64 in support, especially at night.
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