AC-130 Gunship

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Product Type:

Close Air Support Gunship

Using Service (US):

USSOCOM: Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)

Program Status:

In Production (AC-130J)

Prime Contractor:

Lockheed Martin Corp.

The AC-130U Spooky Gunship

About the AC-130:

The Lockheed Martin AC-130H Spectre (retired), AC-130U Spooky, AC-130W Stinger II, and AC-130J Ghostrider (new) are fixed-wing gunship variants of the C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft. AC-130 aircraft provide close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance in support of special operation forces (SOF). Close air support missions include troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity and include strike coordination and reconnaissance and armed overwatch missions.

All AC-130 aircraft are heavily armed and incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with advanced sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide precision firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods. The sensor suite consists of a TV sensor, infrared sensor and radar. These sensors allow the gunship to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets. The AC-130's navigational equipment includes inertial navigation systems and global positioning systems (INS/GPS). The AC-130U employs a synthetic aperture strike radar for long-range and adverse weather target detection and identification.

The AC-130H/U/W are powered by four Rolls-Royce Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines with 4,910 shp each. The AC-130J is powered by the more powerful Rolls-Royce AE 2100D3, which is featured on all C-130J variants.

The AC-130H Sprectre and its AC-130A/E predecessors evolved from the U.S. military's first operational gunship, the AC-47 developed during the Vietnam War (based on the Douglas DC-3). The last AC-130H was retired on May 26, 2015. AC-130 Gunships have, with few exceptions, participated in every conflict involving U.S. military forces since Vietnam. The AC-130U Spooky is operated by a crew of 13, including five officers (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, fire control officer, and electronic warfare officer) and eight enlisted men (flight engineer, TV operator, infrared detection set operator, loadmaster, and four aerial gunners). The first AC-130U Spooky was retired on September 21, 2015.

The AC-130W Stinger II (until May 2012 bearing the name MC-130W Dragon Spear) is the result of a SOCOM project developed to increase the precision fires capacity available to support combat operations overseas. The aircraft is a highly modified C-130H featuring improved navigation, threat detection, countermeasures, and communication suites. Modifications to the AC-130W include a mission management console, communications suite, two electro-optical/infrared sensors, fire control equipment. All AC-130W aircraft have been upgraded with the Precision Strike Package (PSP) to perform the gunship mission --- see 'armament/weapons' section below. The PSP is also installed on the AC-130J (info follows below). The AC-130W has a crew of 10 (two pilots, two combat system officers, one flight engineer, two special mission aviators, and three enlisted gunners).

The AC-130J Ghostrider is a result of the AC-130 recapitalization program and has replaced the Air Force Special Operations Command's (AFSOC) aging fleet of eight AC-130H gunships + adds additional aircraft to the gunship fleet (there are 31 AC-130J/U/Ws in the current inventory). Gunships are in very high demand to support ground troops with day/night precision fires. Heavy use of the aircraft in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in a high degree of wear and tear on the fleet, hence the need for additional airframes. The AC-130J is a highly modified C-130J aircraft with an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics. The aircraft is capable of highly accurate navigation due to the fully integrated navigation systems with dual INS/GPS. Aircraft defensive systems and color weather radar have been integrated as well. The aircraft can be refueled in flight and is provisioned for later AN/AAQ-24(V) LAIRCM installation. Vulnerability reduction features include fuel system protection, redundant flight critical components, armor for crew, and oxygen supply protection. Countermeasures equipment include the BAE Systems AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver (RWR), AN/AAR-47(V) missile warning system (MWS), and AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispensing system. To perform the gunship mission, the AC-130J is upgraded with the Precision Strike Package (PSP) --- see 'armament/weapons' section below. The AC-130J has a crew of seven (two pilots, two combat systems officers, and three enlisted gunners).

The USAF currently plans to purchase as many as 32 AC-130Js for AFSOC. Procurement commenced in fiscal year 2012. The AC-130J made its first flight on January 31, 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida. AFSOC took delivery of its first AC-130J on July 29, 2015.


The AC-130H was equipped with a Bofors 40mm cannon and a side-mounted M102 105mm cannon. The AC-130U features a 25mm GAU-12/U Equalizer five-barreled Gatling gun, a Bofors 40mm cannon, and a side-mounted M102 105mm cannon. The AC-130W and AC-130J are equipped with the modular Precision Strike Package (PSP), which is a major departure from the AC-130H/U weaponry. The PSP includes EO/IR targeting systems, a 10-tube launcher for Special Operations Precision Guided Munitions (SOPGMS), and a side-mounted Orbital ATK Mk 44 Bushmaster 30mm gun. The SOPGMS include the wing-mounted MBDA GBU-44/B Viper Strike GPS-guided gliding munition and the Raytheon AGM-175 Griffin short-range, laser-guided air-to-surface missile. Griffin missiles are mounted internally and launched through the rear cargo door.


The AC-130U/W/J gunship's primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Close air support missions include are troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include air base defense and facilities defense.

FY 2020 & FY 2021 - AC-130 DoD Program:

This data is available in Forecast International's U.S. Defense Budget Forecast, a comprehensive analytical database containing historical and forecast budget figures, year-to-year funding comparisons, congressional budget markups, program justification documents, and much more.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Lockheed Martin Corp.,
BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Rolls-Royce plc.

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