Pimp My Gunship - 1: Get Smart

Does a slow, Vietnam-era gunship have a place on the modern battlefield? Can you upgrade the old warhorse into a 21st century charger?The fixed-wing gunship idea goes back to barnstorming flyers who invented to the pylon turn, pointing one wing at an object such as a pylon on the ground as they turned around it (...there is quite a story behind this one). By extension, if you have weapons firing out of one side of the plane they can maintain accurate fire on a fixed point even though the plane is moving at relatively high speed. The idea worked well in Vietnam, and now the latest version of the gunship is the AC-130U Spectre, packing a 105-mm howitzer, a 25mm 1,800-round-a-minute Gatling gun and a 40mm Bofors gun. It can provide impressively accurate fire support; this video from Iraq apparently shows one destroying moving vehices outside a mosque without hitting the building.ac-1302.jpgTo F-22 Raptor enthusiasts who think air power should be supersonic and stealthy, the Spectre might look like a dinosaur. Its slow and noisy and has to come in close to the target, making it vulnerable to portable SAMs. But the old-style Spectre could be the basis for an ultra-modern gunship, according to Bill Elliot of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. His Future AC-130 Gunship Integrated Weapons Systems Concept is the cutting edge of close air support.The basic idea is to upgrade from dumb, short-range munitions to smart long-range ones. Out goes the 105-mm howitzer in favor of a 120mm smoothbore youd call it a mortar, except that a downward-firing mortar is weird. Add to it racks of smart Viper Strike glide bombs. And instead of relying on onboard sensors, the Spectre will be able to launch its own fleet of drones to locate and designate targets. This increases the range at which targets can be engaged from 3 miles to 15 miles or more, so opponents will no longer be able to hear the Spectre coming before it strikes.Pallet-loaded Dominator UCAV/munitions might also be a useful addition to the mix; in fact, the Future Spectre could be a veritable Arsenal Aircraft carrying a range of weapons and drones depending on the mission.Instead of short-range, high-volume firepower, it will be delivering long-range precision strikes. Both Viper Strike and the XM395 120mm smoothbore rounds can be laser guided, with designation can come from the aircraft itself, from accompanying drones or from ground troops. Targets under hard cover can be destroyed rather than just suppressed, with "top floor, third window from the left" precision.There are plenty of other ammunition options for the 120mm smoothbore - it can fire a full range of mortar rounds. This includes developments like the M971 cargo round, which can saturate an area the size of a football pitch with bomblets, a gun-launched UAV, and even non-lethal rounds delivering CS gas and flash-bangs for crowd control. New monopack containers reduce the packaging weight by 60% and significantly increase the amount which can be carried. This should greatly increase the versatility of the Spectre. But it is the precision strike which will make the biggest difference, greatly increasing the chances of single-shot kills and so extending the number of targets that can be engaged.Instead of orbiting around a fixed point and firing at a sngle target, the upgraded Spectre will be able to tackle multiple targets at dispersed locations simultaneously. And the accuracy of that fire will be enough to destroy targets under cover rather than suppressing them, as well as preventing 'friendly fire' accidents and collateral damage. In effect, Bill Eliot is bringing 'smart bombs' to the gunship, which could increase its effectiveness as much as precision-guided bombs have for strike aircraft.Eliot quotes a memo from the Secretary of Defense:

"We need more weapon systems like the AC-130, where the ordnance can be directed in a more precise way
What better solution than an upgraded AC-130? The Future Spectre is still doing the same job as before, providing close air support to those who need it most, but doing it better. But it would be the heart of a network which includes drones, munitions and ground troops. It will continue to provide the persistence, firepower and high precision that has earned the Spectre its reputation. And it will be able to do it all from a range that greatly reduces risk to the aircraft.It may not be the vision of those who want to conduct airstrikes from mach 1 and 50,000 feet, but when things get messy on the ground, then a gunship with smart weapons looks like a very good investment.-- David Hambling
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