The heavily armed aircraft or ganships (owing their appearance and development - like many of today's weapons systems - to the bloody lessons of the Vietnam War) have always been a kind of niche opportunity, although extremely useful in current asymmetric counterinsurgency operations.
A traditional gunship is, as a rule, a rather low-speed platform (with no exceptions with a screw engine) with a long duration of flight, with a powerful direct-fire rifle-gun armament installed on the sides, which fires at ground and surface targets obliquely (down and sideways), and not like the rest of the aircraft ahead. Flying in a roll with roll, with weapons, aimed at the top of an imaginary "cone", whose guide circle it "flies around", the ganship conducts continuous high-precision fire, which can be kept for quite a long time at one point. This is not possible with traditional forward-directed weapons, when firing from low altitudes or even when diving.
Most rotorcraft, often called "ganship helicopters," are not such, since they lack large-caliber, side-directed armaments, they are more comparable to direct aircraft aviation support and fight against rebels. Likewise, counter-insurgency aircraft such as the Embraer A-29 Super TUCANO or IOMAX ARCHANGEL are not ganships, since their weapons are more likely to go forward, and they also have a relatively modest caliber.
If larger military transport planes are used as the basis for the gunships, large-caliber weapons can be installed with sufficient ammunition for continuous firing, as well as heavy and durable mounts and aiming systems guaranteeing the highest accuracy, which can be sufficient to avoid excessive indirect losses even when firing targets in populated areas.
The roles of ganships
The ganships are usually used in counterinsurgency tasks, to support special operations forces, guard borders, and perform internal security tasks. Since the gunships need to locate and fire at small point targets, they are usually equipped with a complete set of aiming systems and sensors, and this at the same time provides useful additional opportunities for observation, reconnaissance and information gathering.
On the other hand, the relatively low speed and regular and predictable flight patterns (as well as the limited range of their main armament, which prevents flights over enemy areas of anti-aircraft systems or MANPADS) makes them extremely vulnerable even to relatively primitive air defense systems. During the Vietnam War, the US Air Force lost in combat six AU-130A / E, twelve AU-47D and five AC-119S, mainly from anti-aircraft fire.
During Operation Storm in the Desert, the AC-130H ganships mainly took part in night operations; when such a plane continued to perform the task after dawn, it was shot down from Strela-2 MANPADS. Thus, the ganships are mostly limited to actions in a favorable environment in terms of lack of air defense weapons, although they can be extremely useful against opponents who do not have air defense systems and MANPADS. Therefore, these aircraft were intensively used in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving the “bogeleys” over the mountains and deserts.
The largest hand-held operator is the United States Air Force, whose Special Operations Command (AFSOC) operates three C-130 HERCULES armed variants in service with two advanced units of the 1-th special-wing air operations wing in Florida and two squadrons of the 27-th special wing operations at an air base in new mexico.
These units operate AC-130U SPOOKY (Hurlburt), AC-130W STINGER II (Cannon) and the new AC-130J GHOSTRIDER (to be adopted this year).
The original version of the AC-130A HERCULES was developed to replace the Douglas AC-47 gunship (Gunship I project) in order to increase the duration of the flight and increase firepower.
Although the AU-47 (based on the Douglas DC-3 “Dakota” - short-haul transport aircraft) was retired from the US Air Force in 1969, the remaining aircraft were transferred to the Allies, including the Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian Air Forces and later the Air Forces of Salvador. Other air forces launched their own refinements of the Dakota gandership, including Indonesia, Rhodesia, South Africa and Taiwan. Some of the South African aircraft have a 20-mm cannon, and not machine guns caliber 5,56 or 7,62 mm.
Military transport aircraft AC-47, developed on the basis of the passenger DC-3
A pair of DAKOTA Salvadoran handovers, which according to some information still remain in service, are armed with three 12,7-mm machine guns, while the Colombian air forces are still operating five Basler BT-67 turboprop in the ganship configuration. These so-called avions fantasmas (“ghost planes”) are armed with a GAU-12,7 / A 19-mm machine gun, connected to a thermal infrared front view system, and also carried on board the bomb. At least one aircraft was reportedly seen with one GAU-19 / A machine gun and one 20-mm cannon, possibly the French M621.
The first gunship HERCULES received its first baptism of fire at an air base in South Vietnam in September 1967. AU-130A was initially armed with four guns 7,62-mm GAU-2 / A and four sextuple 20-mm cannons M61 VULCAN, and later two guns 7,62-mm GAU-2 / A, two 20-mm guns and two M61 VULCAN 40- mm guns L / 60 Bofors.
Later models AC-130E and AC-130H were armed with two 20-mm M61 VULCAN cannons, one 40-mm Bofors L / 60 cannon and one 105-mm M102 howitzer, after 1994, the 20-mm gun was replaced. After 2000, one 25-mm gun GAU-12 EQUALIZER replaced a pair of original 20-mm guns. The third-generation AC-130U aircraft had the same armament onboard, but were equipped with an advanced fire control system, including synthetic aperture radar for early detection and identification of targets in any weather, as well as high-resolution multi-spectral television sensors and infrared cameras. The new version also differed increased ammunition. AC-130U Ganship actually replaced the remaining AC-130A aircraft that were removed from service in the 1995 year.
In 2007, AFSOC commenced a short-term program to upgrade the armament of the AC-130H and AC-130U aircraft. Four of the X-NUMX AC-17U gunships were refined as the AC-130U Plus 130 test platforms for the new weapon configuration — in this case, the 4-mm GAU-25 / U and the 12-mm Bofors gun were replaced with two 40-mm Mk30 BUSHMAS guns Mk44 BUSHMAS / U guns. Initially, there were also plans to replace the 105-mm howitzer 120-mm M120 mortar with official loading and the installation of AGM-114 HELLFIRE rockets, advanced Precision Kill Weapon System unguided missiles or a GBU-44V VIPER STRIKE adjustable bomb (planning), so that you can carry out attacks out of reach of enemy weapons.
However, the implementation of this rearmament scheme was canceled and the aircraft were refined to the standard configuration, although when the US Air Force launched the Dragon Spear program to create an intermediate ganship, 30-mm Orbital ATK Mk44 BUSHMASTER II gun, HELLFIRE missiles and VIPER STRIKE bombs were the first candidates.
Dragon Spear Program
The goal of the Dragon Spear program was to preserve the combat capabilities in connection with the upcoming decommissioning of the AC-130H / U fleet. This problem was particularly acute after the decommissioning of the eighth aircraft AC-130H (the latter was removed from service in the 2015 year).
In 2010, the company L-3 Communications received a contract worth 61 million dollars for the installation of precision weapons on eight aircraft MC-130W COMBAT SPEAR Special Forces to transform them into intermediate gangships Dragon Spear. But, while the new gunship was equipped with wing assemblies of the suspension, allowing to hang the GBU-39 Small-Diameter Bomb (SDB), GBU-53 / B (SDB II) small-caliber bombs, AGM-114 HELLFIRE missiles, and also had the opportunity for the installation of a GUNSLINGER pallet system with an integrated set of sensors and communication systems and 10 common launch tubes on the rear ramp for various precision weapons, including the GBU-44V VIPER STRIKE or AGM-176 GRIFFIN Small Tactical Munition (STM), it had only one gun with an optional mount for one 30-mm gun BUSHMASTER II.
Such an emphasis on guided remote armament was made on the basis of the combat experience obtained, which showed that the AC-130 ganships, as a rule, operate in the daytime at high altitudes, and this, by and large, makes the gun ineffective.
The first gunship MC-130W Dragon Spear entered service in March 2010 of the year and in May 2012 of the year was renamed AC-130W STINGER II. In total, 14 aircraft were converted to this configuration.
The AC-130J GHOSTRIDER was ranked as the heaviest gunship in stories. On board, he carries 30-mm and 105-mm cannons, AGM-176A GRIFFIN missiles, HELLFIRE missiles and GBU-39 SDB bombs.
While the intermediate project AC-130W allowed the US Air Force to continue intensive use of its gunships, even taking into account the decommissioning of the outdated AC-130H, the planned gunship HERCULES should have been based on the C-130J glider, but with its two-seater glass cabin, digital electronics, Rolls-Royce AE 2100 D3 turboprop engines and composite saber blades for propellers from Dowty R391.
Successful transformation program Combat Spear in Dragon Spear allowed to determine the direction of further development. The new AC-130J GHOSTRIDER gunship, based on the MC-130J COMBAT SHADOW II aircraft, had to be equipped with a special-purpose weapons kit for high-precision strike, so that they could get offensive capabilities. For this, new aircraft were taken, not “used”, while the equipment and the weapon set were similar to the equipment and the weapon kit of the AC-130W, although it was later decided that the new gunship was in addition to the Bushmaster’s 30 gun and various smart bombs will be equipped with an 105-mm howitzer, since it was concluded that 105-mm projectiles will be more accurate and cheaper than SDB bombs.
The United States Air Force will initially acquire 16 new AC-130J hand-crank arms, thereby increasing the hand-gun fleet to 33 vehicles. After the planned decommissioning of aircraft AC-130H, excluding the “intermediate” AC-130W, in its pure form, the size of the hunt fleet will increase by 8 machines. Ultimately, the AC-32J GHOSTRIDER 130 ganship will replace the 37 operating models AC-130H SPECTER, AC-130U SPOOKY and AC-130W STINGER II, after which the gunship park will have a unified overall configuration. The United States Air Force hopes to remove the last existing gunship in 2022 year.
The first aircraft MC-130J was delivered to Eglin airbase to refine the configuration of the AC-130J in January 2013 of the year, and it made its first flight as the AC-130J in January of the 2014 year. Initial combat readiness was scheduled for 2017 year, but was postponed to a later date after the incident during the test flight, when the limit loads on the body of an experienced machine were exceeded, after which it was sent for full disassembly.
The second AC-130J was deployed to the AFSOC Air Force Base in Florida in July 2015 for operational tests. As in the case of the first AC-130J, the 105-mm gun was not installed on it; it will begin to install on this model from the third machine.
In the future, the US Air Force wants to add a weapon of directed energy to the AC-130J gunship instead of the 30-mm cannon, as well as an active containment system for controlling crowd actions from the air and a one-time UAV to meet the requirement for an off-board sensory system. Rayton’s drone COYOTE is designed for targeting and reconnaissance purposes, it has a flight duration of one hour, although requirements include a flight duration of four hours.
In June 2016, the Special Operations Forces Command SOCOM contracted Dynetics to integrate the adjustable GBU-69 / B Small Glide Munition bombs into the AC-130J gunship. This small planning bomb without an engine with GPS and semi-active laser guidance can be dropped from common launch guides and has a more powerful warhead compared to HELLFIRE and GRIFFIN missiles.
The US Air Force is not the only type of armed forces operating an armed Hercules aircraft, just like the AC-130J version is not the first armed version of the C-130J Super Hercules. The Marine Corps is planning to eventually integrate the HARVEST HAWK (HERCULES Airborne Weapons Kit) underboard rollout system into its KC-130J tankers, which will enhance not only the reconnaissance capabilities of the KS-130J tankers, but also their firepower by installing an automatic cannon. . The HARVEST HAWK system is in fact the predecessor of the Dragon Spear program and became the basis for the modifications of the AC-130W and AC-130J models.
Other improvements to the HARVEST HAWK program include the replacement of the AAQ-30 Observation and Aiming Optoelectronic Station with a more advanced MX-20 system (the same is on the new P-8 POSEIDON anti-submarine aircraft), a new pallet for the Mission Operator Pallet, based on the AC pallet -130J, and LINK 16 communication channel, whereas, in accordance with the Capability III refinement program, it is proposed to add a modular 30-mm cannon installed in the side door. Marine Corps also plans to integrate the new dual-mode (laser / radar guidance) JAGM missile.
Anti-submarine aircraft P-8 POSEIDON equipped with a sight-sighting optical-electronic station MX-20
HERCULES is not the only gunship on the planet, or even the only gunship in the United States. The Marine Corps is planning to equip its MV-22 OSPREY converters and even tried to mount an 30-mm cannon on them, although it will not be used as a weapon for firing from the side, which would make it a typical gunship.
Before dwelling on the AC-130W and AC-130J models, the AFSOC command, in order to satisfy its AC-XX demand, thought about purchasing a variant of the C-27J SPARTAN transport plane from Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems (LMATTS) as a replacement for its outdated AC- 130H SPECTER. AFSOC had planned to buy the AC-16J STINGER II 27 handovers in the 2011-2015 years.
The main tasks of the AC-130W STINGER II ganship are the direct air support and isolation of the combat area from the air
But AC-27J fell victim to financial cuts and the Air Force decided to stop with the standard HERCULES aircraft as the basis of its future ganships, although in 2013, SOCOM tested the PZL C-145A SKYTRUCK aircraft in a variant of the ganship, which was armed with dual GAU- 12,7-mm machine guns 18.
Although the US Air Force decided not to buy the AC-27J, Alenia developed the C-27J Spartan version of the multi-purpose gunship MC-27J to meet the needs of other customers.
Gunship MС-27J is designed to perform tasks of command, control, reconnaissance, surveillance and information gathering, as well as fire support, having on board a roll-out 30-mm Orbital ATU GAU-23 gun. This is a variant of the gun Mk44 BUSHMASTER, mounted on the AC-130W. The MC-27J variant will also be converted for installation on the ramp of a system of tubular launchers that will allow you to fire with highly accurate weapons, including Raytheon GRIFFIN-B and MBDA VIPER-E missiles.
In the tailgate of the MC-27J on a standard 463L pallet, an 30-mm GAU-23 gun is installed
Monitors pointing guns in the cockpit (above). Control switch cocking the opening of fire on the pilot's steering wheel (below)
The first customer of the MC-27J PRAETORIAN was the Italian Air Force, which converted three of its C-27J gantries into the Praetorian configuration and, if necessary, converted three more aircraft that the systems from the Praetorian configuration could accept. The first Italian gunship MC-27J passed operational tests in Afghanistan in the 2014 year, and at the moment it carries out military service in Italian aviation.
The basic C-27J military transport aircraft from the very beginning of its development fought strong competitors in the face of the CASA CN235 and CASA C295 models (photo below) of Airbus Defense & Space (DS). The armed MC-27J may also be under competitive pressure from gunships converted from Airbus tactical transport aircraft.
The AC-235 gunship program began in February 2011, when ATC announced the creation of a joint venture with the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau of Jordan to convert two previously owned Spanish military transport aircraft CN235 into the AC-235 ganship configuration for the Jordanian Command special operations forces.
Gunship AC-235 has a light-weight, rotating 30-mm Orbital ATK MXNMXLF cannon installed on board, suspension assemblies of various weapons, including AGM-230 HELLFIRE and unguided 114-mm missiles. The aircraft is equipped with a Thales I-MASTER Ku-band synthesized aperture radar, ground-based moving targets indicator in the turret under the fuselage on the right side and a L-70 Wescam IVIX-3 optical-electronic station with a laser pointer on the left side.
The aircraft was reworked with the United States, and the first aircraft made its first flight in the ganship configuration in December 2013 of the year and flew to its place of service in Jordan in May 2014 of the year. Both aircraft are in service with the 32 Squadron of the aviation brigade.
The AC-235 light gantry for relatively little money provides improved capabilities for defensive operations, counterinsurgency operations and border security.
The success of the AC-235 program led to the decision to convert one of the larger Jordanian transport aircraft CASA C295 into a hunt of a similar configuration. It also suggested Airbus DS to offer its own version of the “factory gang” to meet the requirements of an unnamed customer from the Middle East.
This aircraft will be a much simpler hunt - with a pair of 12,7-mm machine guns on a turret in the rear doors and fire control systems or reconnaissance and surveillance. The company also developed more advanced modifications of handrails based on the C295 light transport aircraft with a set of sensors and weapon systems, including an integrated FITS tactical system from the Airbus DS, a synthetic aperture radar, two optical-electronic optical reconnaissance stations installed in the 20-mm or 30-mm cannon and four underwing assemblies for various controlled weapons, including air-to-surface missiles AGM-114 HELLFIRE or Roketsan L-UMTAS, laser-guided missiles, including, R oketsan CIRIT and various laser-guided bombs.
Despite the fact that some Soviet and modern Russian multi-purpose and attack helicopters belong to the ganships according to American terminology, there are no strict equivalents of the “ganship” in the Russian-speaking official business vocabulary due to a fundamentally different historical path of development of aviation in general and aircraft supporting the ground forces in particular in no small measure due to the expeditionary method of warfare traditional for the US Armed Forces.
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