AC-130 in Flight


3/20/18: Footage of AC-130 in-flight.


Video by Senior Airman Timothy Kirchner 

Air Force Content Management

The AC-130U: “Spooky” gunships’ primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance.

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, reconnaissance, and armed overwatch mission sets.

This heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation, and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods, at night and in adverse weather.

The sensor suite consists of a multispectral television sensors, high definition infrared sensors, and radar. These sensors allow the gunship to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets anytime, anywhere.

The AC-130U employs synthetic aperture strike radar for long-range and adverse weather target detection and identification. The AC-130’s navigational devices include inertial navigation systems and global positioning systems.

The AC-130U’s capability to track and engage two targets simultaneously with different levels of ordnance is an invaluable asset to Special Operations Forces on the ground.

The Spooky is the third generation of C-130 gunships.

All gunships evolved from the first operational gunship, the AC-47, to the AC-119, and then the AC-130A which was the basis for the modern C-130 gunship.  The AC-130H “Spectre” gunships were fielded in 1972 and retired in 2015.

The AC-130 gunship has a combat history dating to Vietnam. Gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. During Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in 1983,

AC-130s suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces enabling the successful assault of the Point Salines Airfield via airdrop and air land of friendly forces.

The AC-130 aircrew earned the Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Award for the mission. 

AC-130s also had a primary role during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 when they destroyed Panamanian Defense Force Headquarters and numerous command and control facilities.

Aircrews earned the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year and the Tunner Award for their efforts.

During Operation Desert Storm, AC-130s provided close air support and force protection (air base defense) for ground forces. Gunships were also used during operations Continue Hope and United Shield in Somalia, providing close air support for United Nations ground forces. Gunships also played a pivotal role in supporting the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The AC-130H provided air interdiction against key targets in the Sarajevo area. 

In 1997, gunships were diverted from Italy to provide combat air support for U.S. and allied ground troops during the evacuation of American noncombatants in Albania and Liberia.

AC-130s were also part of the buildup of U.S. forces in 1998 to convince Iraq to comply with U.N. weapons inspections.

More recently, AC-130U gunships have supported Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and have been employed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Resolute Support.

Finally, AFSOC gunships have also played a pivotal role in the recent uprisings in the Middle East. Gunships provide armed reconnaissance, interdiction and direct support of ground troops engaged with enemy forces. 

General characteristics

Primary function: close air support, air interdiction and force protection

Builder: Lockheed/Boeing Corp.

Power plant: four Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines

Thrust: 4,300 shaft horsepower each engine

Wingspan: 132 feet 7 inches (40.4 meters) 
Length: 97 feet 9 inches (29.8 meters)

Height: 38 feet 6 inches (11.7 meters) 
Speed: 300 mph (Mach .4) (at sea level)

Range: approximately 1,300 nautical miles; limited by crew duty day with air refueling.

Ceiling: 25,000 feet (7,576 meters)

Maximum takeoff weight: 155,000 pounds (69,750 kilograms) 
Armament: 40mm, 105mm cannons and 25mm Gatling gun.

Crew: AC-130U – pilot, co-pilot, navigator, fire control officer, electronic warfare officer (five officers) and flight engineer, TV operator, infrared detection set operator, loadmaster, and four aerial gunners (eight enlisted) 
Deployment date:  1995 
Unit cost:  $210 million
Inventory: active duty, 17; reserve, 0; ANG, 0

The Standup of the Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats: Shaping a Way Ahead


By Robbin Laird

(Updated) With the all the focus on the Russian intervention in the last US presidential elections, it is useful to take a broader view of the challenge focused by the new technologies and approaches.

During my recent visit to Helsinki,  a visit the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats provided such an overview.

Although the term is new, the efforts at hybrid influencing are not.

The means have changed, the liberal democracies are evolving and the challenges have mutated. 

The work of the Centre is at the vortex of a key vector for liberal democracies, namely the evolution of these democracies under the influence of a 21st century information society and with non-liberal actors seeking to use the new instruments to influence the evolution of the democratic societies.

This photo was taken at the time of the event inaugurating the Centre. (Ffrom left): President of the Republic of Finland Mr Sauli Niinistö, The NATO Secretary General Mr Jens Stoltenberg, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Ms Federica Mogherini and Prime Minister of Finland Mr Juha Sipilä. Credit: European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats

The underlying dynamic is change within the liberal democracies themselves.

Conflict has deepened, and the internet and associated means of communication have enhanced conflict rather than consensus within the liberal democracies.

President Trump has spoken frequently of “fake news” and although his critics condemn this phrase, we all know it exists and is a core challenge facing the liberal democracies.

It is the change associated with the new means of communication along with the evolution of a more differentiate and disaggregated society which provides the entry point for adversaries to conduct hybrid warfare in the information domain.

In other words, it is not about warfare per se; it is about the evolution of liberal democracies and the expanded tool sets which non-liberal actors have to seek to influence the culture, actions and decisions of the liberal democracies. 

This has been predictable.

When I participated in a Spanish government sponsored forum on the information society in 1996 held in Madrid, I highlighted what I saw as a number of challenges along with the promise of a new information society.

I highlighted what I saw as three major challenges and one of those was as follows:

“The risk that special interest groups in the information elite can gain inordinate influence and even undermine democracy by competing with elected representatives.”

1996 Information Society Conference

This certainly has happened and now ill liberal powers are one of those interest groups.

Both Communist China and revanchist Russia are part of Western economies and societies, unlike the Soviet Union which became over time more of onlooker to the West than an integral internal player, although the initial response to the Russian revolution certainly brought supporters of the Soviet Union in key positions to influence public parties and opinion.

But now as investors in the West, with legitimate interests and representatives but at the same time clearly committed to information war both the Russians and Chinese are spearheading significant change in the hybrid war aspect of information society.

And a key challenge which the liberal democracies face is clearly that we are on the defensive; it is difficult for us to counter offensive hybrid influencing efforts, although that will almost certainly be generated in the years ahead.

I had a chance to discuss the challenges and the focus of the new Centre with Päivi Tampere, Head of Communications for the Centre, and with Juha Mustonen, Director of International Relations.

The Centre is based on a 21st century model whereby a small staff operates a focal point to organize working groups, activities and networks among the member governments and flows through that activity to publications and white papers for the working groups.

As Tampere put it: “The approach has been to establish in Helsinki to have a rather small secretariat whose role is to coordinate and ask the right questions, and organize the work.

“We have 13 member states currently. EU member states or NATO allies can be members of our Centre.”

A network kick-start event at the Centre called Resilient Legislation ( Credit Photo: European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats

“We have established three core networks to address three key areas of interest.

“The first is hybrid-influencing led by UK;

“The second community of interest headed by a Finn which is addressing “vulnerabilities and resiliencies.”

“And we are looking at a broad set of issues, such as the ability of adversaries to buy property next to Western military bases, issues such as legal resilience, maritime security, energy questions and a wide variety of activities which allow adversaries to more effectively compete in hybrid influencing.”

“The third COI called Strategy and Defense is led by Germany.

“In each network, we have experts who are working the challenges practically and we are tapping these networks to share best practices what has worked and what hasn’t worked in countering hybrid threats.

“The Centre also organizes targeted trainings and exercises to practitioners.

“All the activities aim at building participating states’ capacity to counter hybrid threats.

“The aim of the Centre’s research pool is to share insight to hybrid threats and make our public outreach publications to improve awareness of the hybrid challenge.”

With Juha Mustonen, who came from the Finnish Minsitry of Foreign Affairs to his current position, we discussed the challenges and the way ahead for the Centre.

“Influencing has always been a continuum first with peaceful means and then if needed with military means.

“Blurring the line between peace time influencing and war time influencing on a target country is at core of the hybrid threats challenge.

“A state can even cross the threshold of warfare but if it does not cross the threshold of attribution, there will be no military response at least if action is not attributed to that particular state.

“Indeed, the detection and attribution issue is a key one in shaping a response to hybrid threat.”

Laird: And with the kind of non-liberal states we are talking about, and with their expanded presence in our societies, they gain significant understanding and influence within our societies so they are working within our systems almost like interest groups, but with a focus on information war as well.

Mustonen: Adversaries can amplify vulnerabilities by buying land, doing investments, making these kinds of economic interdependencies.

“They can be in dialogue with our citizens or groups of our citizens, for example, to fostering anti-immigrant sentiments and exploiting them to have greater access to certain groups inside the European societies.

“For example, the narratives of some European far right groupings have become quite close to some adversaries’ narratives.”

Question: But your focus is not only on the use of domestic influence but mixing this with kinetic power as well to shape Western positions and opinion as well, isn’t it?

Mustonen: Adversaries are using many instruments of power. One may identify a demonstration affect from the limited use of military power and then by demonstrating our vulnerabilities a trial of a psychological affect within Western societies to shape policies more favorable to their interests.

“If you are using many instruments of power, below the threshold of warfare, their synergetic effect can cause your bigger gain in your target societies, and this is the dark side of comprehensive approach.”

“The challenge is to understand the thresholds of influence and the approaches.

“What is legitimate and what is not?

“And how do we counter punch against the use of hybrid influencing by Non-Western adversaries?

“How can we prevent our adversaries from exploiting democratic fractures and vulnerabilities, to enhance their own power positions?

“How do we do so without losing our credibility as governments in front of our own people?”

Laird: A key opportunity for the center is to shape a narrative and core questions which Western societies need to address, especially with all the conflict within our societies over fake news and the like.

Mustonen: Shaping a credible narrative and framing the right questions is a core challenge but one which the Centre will hope to achieve in the period ahead.

“We are putting these issues in front of our participants and aim at improving our understanding of hybrid threats and the ways we can comprehensively response to the threats.”


The Icebreaker Gap: Shaping a Way Ahead to Deal with the Challenge


We have written for years about the impact of the decline of the icebreaker force in the USCG on US Arctic policy.

We referred to the US as the “reluctant Arctic power.”

In our interview with the USCG Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft we focused on the need to shift policy and to add the kinds of assets the USCG needs to able to fulfill a core mission.

Question: With regard to the Arctic, there is an obvious need to ramp up US presence and the resources to provide for presence.

How do you view the way ahead?

Admiral Zukunft: “We clearly need a new icebreaker.

“We’ve written the operational requirement documents that make the icebreaker a floating command and control platform.

“We can put a skiff on it. It’s also an instrument to enforce sovereignty.

“Rather then ice hardened, you have actually an ice breaking capability up there as well.

“It is extremely hard to predict what that area’s going to look like in 20, 30 years but without a new icebreaker we will be observers more than participants in shaping Arctic safety and security.

“An independent High Latitude analysis confirmed that we need three and three – three heavy and three medium icebreakers.

“We have helped stand up an Arctic Coast Guard Forum based on the Pacific Coast Guard Forum model.

“This allows the key national stakeholders in Arctic safety and security to work together where possible to enhance safety and security in this dynamic region.

“We are looking to do a mass rescue exercise in 2017 around Iceland that will bring in Denmark and other NATO partners for a collective security effort.

“And to be clear, the USCG is the key sea service for the Arctic, the USN has in effect devolved Arctic security responsibilities to the USCG.”


Later this week, the USCG is to release its request for proposal for a new heavy icebreaker.

According to a story by Ben Werner published on USNI News on March 1, 2018:

Speaking Thursday during his final State of the Coast Guard address, Zukunft said the icebreaker program is part of a funding pivot point, with a $11.6-billion funding request for Fiscal Year 2019 that will shape the Coast Guard for the next 40 years.

“We are building out the Coast Guard of tomorrow, and to do that we will need 5 percent annualized growth in operations and maintenance account and a $2-billion floor for acquisitions to continue to do so,” Zukunft said.
“It is a small ask, for the smallest armed service whose full appropriation is less than one line item on the appropriations of the other four armed services.”

While Zukunft pointed to several achievements during the past year, securing funding for a new heavy icebreaker represents a fundamental shift in how the Coast Guard advances U.S. policy in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

“We are trusted in the Arctic to preserve our sovereignty over precious oil and minerals, to ensure access to opening shipping routes, and let’s not forget, to keep our border secure in a region with an emerging U.S. coastline and mounting Russian footprint,” Zukunft said.

Currently, the Coast Guard only has one heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), which was commissioned in 1976 – shortly before Zukunft started his 41-year Coast Guard career after graduating from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1977.

In the following article which we published in 2011, we discussed with Rear Admiral (Retired) Jeffrey M. Garrett, a man with significant Arctic experience, the importance of the icebreaker to US national security policy:

12/19/2011 Shortly before he was to testify before Congress with regard to the Arctic, Rear Admiral Jeffrey M. Garrett, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired) sat down with Second Line of Defense to provide our readers with an update.

SLD: The icebreaker is an extremely important asset for presence in the Arctic and as you described operates as kind of a mother ship in the Arctic.  What’s the current situation with the US icebreaker fleet?

Garret: The current national multi-mission polar Icebreaker fleet is three right now.  Unfortunately, neither of the 35-year-old polar class vessels is operational; one is laid up, the other one is undergoing a multiyear refurbishment project.  The only operational Icebreaker is actually a less powerful, more modern ship, the Healy, which is actually deployed in the Arctic right now.


The Icebreaker fleet represents the main surface presence that the U.S. can exert in what is essentially a maritime domain in the Arctic Ocean.  An area that is becoming much more accessible to a whole range of human activities.  And it’s clearly brought Arctic Alaska, the U.S. piece of the Arctic into a new concern for the Coast Guard, particularly in terms of exercising its statutory responsibilities there. It is obviously important as well for protecting broader national interests, such as presence, sovereignty, and even support of defense operations.

The Icebreaker is really the platform that can give you year-round access to that for both the broader national interest, as well as being able to conduct Coast Guard operations.

SLD:    A lot of folks Inside the Beltway say that these Arctic missions are very futuristic, and some would argue that we’re in a financial crisis and we can’t afford an Arctic presence. How does our inability to play going to affect our interest in the very near-term?

Garret: To get to the first part of your question, the Icebreakers are clearly very expensive ships compared to others.  But really, the perspective should be what is the cost of not having an Icebreaker?  If you have a major contingency in the Arctic, whether it’s security related, oil spill related, or something like that, even search-and-rescue, or tourism ships getting in trouble, you have no way of responding. And the cost of not being able to respond to those things may be very high.

The Icebreaker is an insurance policy against future contingencies in a rapidly transforming Arctic.

SLD:    We were talking a little bit earlier about, in effect, about a fleet concept, which would include the Arctic.  The way we’ve looked at it is a Pacific strategy from the Arctic to Australia.  And you were focusing very much on building some commonality of the National Security Cutter fleet that would be in the Pacific and with the Coast Guard with a evolving icebreaker fleet.  How would that work?  What’s your vision of integrating NSCs and future Icebreakers?

Garret: What’s changed for the Coast Guard is that the Icebreaker fleet no longer is just performing science and missions for other agencies.  It’s now becoming a core Coast Guard asset in terms of being able to execute Coast Guard responsibilities in the Arctic, and in the Antarctic, for that matter.

A future Icebreaker is essentially a national security cutter set of capabilities with the additional ability to operate in ice covered waters, and for extended periods of time.  So really, it’s not an odd animal that’s kind of an add-on to the Coast Guard fleet; it’s really central to the whole core concept of being able to do Coast Guard missions at sea a long way from homeport.

And I think the ability for these kinds of ships to exert a surface presence, in a whole range of things from the most simple peacetime task, such as search-and-rescue, to all the way up to security and defense related issues is a highly effective tool that the United States needs.

SLD: And I guess the final point is when you say surface presence, of course, there are air assets coming off of these Icebreakers as well.  And as we go over time, we’re going to have to build out the capabilities of what could be on that ship.

Garret: Absolutely.  I think having rotary wing assets on the ship is a key part of this. The icebreakers have a lot of other capabilities, which include the ability to have sophisticated command-and-control communication systems, to carry cargo, to have container spots on deck so you can modularize a lot of your mission packages when you want to specialize it for certain missions.  There are other aspects as well such as extra berthing, an ability to carry small boats, etc.  It’s really a floating base in the Arctic, in a place where there really is no infrastructure.

For earlier SLD pieces discussing the Arctic with  Rear Admiral Garrett, please see