The AC-130H Spectre was developed as part of Project Pave Spectre II. This involved the upgrade of existing AC-130E aircraft to AC-130H aircraft, incoporating various gunship specific upgrades, as well as upgrades relating to the C-130H. These aircraft featured the sensor and armament suite of the AC-130E, with various improvements. The 2 M61A1 cannons were also eventually removed from the aircraft, as the 40mm and 105mm as they became the dominant systems.
With the hostage situation in Teheran, Iran in 1979, 4 AC-130H gunships of the 16th Special Operations Squadron flew nonstop from Hurlburt Field, Florida to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam. There these aircraft became part of the support force during the hostage rescue attempt in 1980. During the mission, codenamed Operation Eagle Claw, weather and mechanical problems with helicopters forced the mission abort of the effort, which ended with a disasterous accident at a forward position, codenamed Desert 1.
In October 1983, the gunships of the 16th Special Operations Squadron played a very significant part in the rescue of American medical students on the island of Grenada as part of Operation Urgent Fury. Without the firepower of the AC-130Hs, the invasion of Grenada would have cost more American lives.
From late December 1989 to early January 1990, the Twenty Third Air Force participated in the re-establishment of democracy in the Republic of Panama during Operation Just Cause. Special operations aircraft included active and Air Force Reserve AC-130H Spectre gunships, EC-130E Volant Solo psychological operations aircraft from the Air National Guard, HC-130P/N Combat Shadow tankers, MC-130E Combat Talons, and MH-53J Pave Low and MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. AC-130H Spectre gunship crews of the 1st Special Operations Wing earned the Mackay Trophy and Tunner Award for their efforts.
Both the AC-130A and AC-130H gunships were part of the international force assembled in the Persian Gulf region to drive out of Kuwait which Saddam Hussein had invaded in early August 1990. In January 1991, the allies launched Operation Desert Storm, following the defensive Operation Desert Shield build-up in Saudi Arabia. Victory was accomplished in a few weeks and Kuwait was set free of the foreign invader. Sadly, the enemy shot down one AC-130H gunship. It resulted in the loss of all 14 crewmembers, the largest singer air power loss of the war.
In March 1994, the price of freedom and the high operations tempo was paid by a 16th Special Operations Squadron AC-130H gunship, call sign Jockey 14. The aircraft was lost due to an in-flight explosion and ditching off the coast of Kenya while supporting Operation Continue Hope II in Somalia. Eight crewmembers were killed, while 6 survived.
In April 1996, AC-130H aircraft participated in Operation Assured Response, which provided support to the emergency Noncombatant Evacuation (NEO) of more than 2,100 US and foreign citizens from Monrovia, Liberia. Operating in a hostile fire environment, special operations forces personnel conducted dozens of rotary wing evacuation flights using MH-53Js and overhead fire support sorties in AC-130H Spectres, often vectoring friendly aircraft through heavy small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire.
The AC-130H ALQ-172 ECM Upgrade installed and modified the ALQ-172 with low band jamming capability for all AC-130H aircraft. It also modified the ALQ-172 with engineering change proposal-93 to provide increased memory and flight line reprogramming capabilities. The Air Force (WR-ALC/LUKA) issued a sole source, fixed price contract, to International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) for development of low band jammer and subsequent production. The contract was a competitive, firm fixed price contract for the Group A modifications (preparing aircraft to receive jammers).
Funded weight reduction and center of gravity (CG) improvements to the AC-130H aircraft included: redesign of 40mm and 105mm ammo racks using lighter weight materials; reverse engineering of 40mm and 105mm trainable gun mounts using lighter weight material; and removal of non-critical armor. These efforts were performed by a sole source contract awarded to Rock Island Arsenal.
Work on a Precision Strike Package for the MC-130W began in 2010 to fulfill an urgent combat requirement to rapidly arm and field multi-mission precision strike platforms. The MC-130W Dragon Spear aircraft would provide an armed over-watch capability including sensors, communication systems, precision guided munitions, and a single medium caliber gun. An interim kit had been fielded and funded as February 2010 under a Combat Mission Needs Statement in FY09. It was expected that the MC-130W aircraft would return to their primary mobility role once Precision Strike Package was fielded on recapitalized AC-130H aircraft.
Funding was also requested in 2010 to support systems engineering, analysis, and integration of the baseline Precision Strike Package onto host MC-130J aircraft provided by the US Air Force for AC-130H recapitalization, as well as other SOF airborne platforms. Missions for the AC-130H recap aircraft included, but were not limited to, Close Air Support (CAS), Air Interdiction, Armed Reconnaissance, Escort, and Force Protection - Integrated Base Defense. The Precision Strike Package was designed to be modular, scalable, and platform neutral, and includes mission management, sensors, and weapons.
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