The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed, long-endurance ground-attack variant of the C-130 Hercules transport fixed-wing aircraft. It carries a wide array of anti-ground oriented weapons that are integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation, and fire-control systems. Unlike other military fixed-wing aircraft, the AC-130 relies on visual targeting. Because its large profile and low operating altitudes (around 7,000 ft) make it an easy target, it usually flies close air support missions at night.
The airframe is manufactured by Lockheed Martin, while Boeing is responsible for the conversion into a gunship and for aircraft support. Developed during the Vietnam War as 'Project Gunship II', the AC-130 replaced the Douglas AC-47 Spooky, or 'Gunship I'. The sole operator is the United States Air Force, which uses the AC-130U Spooky and AC-130W Stinger II variants for close air support, air interdiction, and force protection, with the AC-130J Ghostrider in development.
Close air support roles include supporting ground troops, escorting convoys, and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against planned targets and targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include defending air bases and other facilities. AC-130Us are based at Hurlburt Field, Florida, while AC-130Ws are based at Cannon AFB, New Mexico; gunships can be deployed worldwide. The squadrons are part of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), a component of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM).