Last month, some of the U.S. Air
Force's 21 gunships (eight AC-130H "Spectre", and 13 AC-130U "Spooky") flew 279
sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each sorties lasted about 250 minutes. The air
force won't say how many of the gunships are where, but these aircraft are in
big demand. However, because there are so few of them, they are used as much as
possible. Use rates were about the same for February, as for March.
Because of their vulnerability to ground fire, the
AC-130s only operate at night. The last time an AC-130 was lost was at Khafji,
Saudi Arabia, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The aircraft was leaving the
combat zone at sunrise, and was visible to Iraqi gunners in the area.
Four more AC-130Us are in production, and older
ones are receiving new sensors. All AC-130s are being equipped with 30mm
cannon, and missiles (like Hellfire and Viper Strike), in addition to their
105mm howitzer, and large array of sensors. Two 30mm cannon are replacing two
25mm and one 40mm weapons.