Project Gunship II
The primary missions of AC-130 type gunships are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Other missions include perimeter and point defense, escort, landing, drop and extraction zone support, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.
These heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended periods, at night and in adverse weather. The AC-130 series has been used effectively for over 30 years to take out ground defenses and targets. One drawback to using the AC-130 series is that it is typically only used in night assaults because of its poor maneuverability and limited orientations relative to the target during attack.
Developed during the conflict in Vietnam, AC-130 type gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. AC-130s also suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in 1983. This enabled the successful assault of Point Salines airfield via airdrop and airland of friendly forces.
AC-130 gunships had a primary role during Operation Just Cause in Panama by destroying the Panamanian Defense Force Headquarters and numerous command and control facilities by surgical employment of ordnance in an urban environment. As the only close air support platform in the theater, AC-130s were credited with saving the lives of many friendly personnel. Both the H-models and A-models played key roles. The fighting was opened by a gunship attack on the military headquarters of the dictator of Panama and the outcome was never in doubt. All objectives were quickly accomplished and democracy was restored to Panama.
During Operation Desert Storm, AC-130s provided air base defense and close air support for ground forces. Both the AC-130A and AC-130H gunships were part of the international force assembled in the Persian Gulf region to drive out of Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, which he had invaded in early August 1990. In the following January 1991, the allies launched the actual war known as Desert Storm following the Desert Shield build-up. Victory was accomplished in a few weeks and Kuwait was set free of the foreign invader. Iraq shot down one AC-130H gunship. It resulted in the loss of all 14 crewmembers, the largest single air power loss of the war. Post war restriction on Iraq required the presence of AC-130 gunships to enforce them.
AC-130s were also used during Operations Continue Hope and United Shield in Somalia, providing close air support for United Nations ground forces. The gunships played a pivotal role during operations in support of the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing air interdiction against key targets in the Sarajevo area.
In 1997, AC-130 gunships were diverted from Italy to provide combat air support for US and allied ground troops during the evacuation of American noncombatants in Albania and Liberia. AC-130s were also part of the buildup of US forces in 1998 to convince Iraq to comply with U.N. weapons inspections.
AC-130 aircraft were employed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Gunships provided armed reconnaissance, interdiction and direct support of ground troops engaged with enemy forces. They were also deployed in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn over Libya in 2011.
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