The US Military has conducted ongoing efforts that improve the performance and increase the lethality of the AC-130 gunships operated by US Air Force Special Operations Command. The work could also provide these and other C-130 Hercules models with greatly expanded capabilities generally referred to as ‘Killer Herc’. Late in the 1980’s, the Air Force decided that it needed to upgrade the capacities of the AC-130, and the AC-130U project was begun. The weapons were changed somewhat, with the twin 20mm vulcan cannons being dropped in favor of a GAU-12 25mm rotating cannon.
However, the biggest change to the AC-130 airframe was in it’s electronics and avionics. AN AN/APG-180 radar (derived from the same ground and air radar that the Air Forces F-15E uses) was added to allow tracking of targets and rounds for adjustment as was an ALLTV (All Light Level TV) for operations at night or daytime, when the crew wants to keep their radars off to avoid alerting enemy forces or giving anti-radar missiles a target to home in on.
With these systems, the AC-130U can operate at night and in bad weather, engaging multiple targets simultaneously. The AN/APG radar allows the targeting crew in the control booth to follow rounds all the way to the ground and make live corrections without having to wait for ground troops to spot and report back. The larger 25mm gun has a longer range and more power, allowing the AC-130U to stay higher and farther away from ground threats, and its 1,800 rounds per minute firing rate can decimate anything from enemy formations to light armored vehicles. All of the weapons are now fixed on hydraulically actuated, computer trainable mounts, so that the new AC-130U can attack two targets over half a mile apart at the same time.
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[This video shows an A-130 on the job in Afghanistan. Notice how the gunner consciously avoids hitting the mosque.]