The USAF Special Operations Group (SOG) have been busy of late and my visit to RAF Mildenhall (USAF base in the UK that hosts the 352nd Special Operations Group) demonstrated that well with two AC-130U Spooky gunships in along with two MC-130H Combat Talon II Hercules. Both AC-130Us departed under the call sign SOAP Four One to nearby RAF Lakenheath (another USAF base in the UK) possibly to arm the aircraft. The AC-130 is in high demand in Afghanistan due to its long loiter time and the almost unbelievable firepower it can provide to troops on the ground.sp
A crew of 13 operate the AC-130 and it has three main weapons located on the lefthand side of the airframe. Starting at the front there is the GAU-12 Gatling Gun, controlled by a computer based optical sight it can provide up to 4200 round per minute. Next is the L-60 40mm Bofor Cannon providing a fire rate of 120 rounds per minute. Finally is the largest weapon, the M-102 105mm Howitzer weighing in at 1.6 tons it provides up to 10 rounds per minute or 3 rounds per minute sustained fire over a distance of 7.1 miles (increasing to 9.4 miles if the projectile is rocket assisted).
To make sure all this fire power is provided where it is needed the AC-130 has a large array of sensors. In the nose is an APG-80 fire control radar and located below it is an AN/AAQ-117 forward looking infrared ball. The airframe is also covered with infrared warning receivers that are combined with a missile warning system. If these devices detect an attack on the AC-130 it can deploy chaff, flares, directional infared countermeasures or RF countermeasures.
The MC-130H Talon IIs also share a lot of the sensors and countermeasures with the AC-130 but provides a transport rather than a close air support role.
As well as the SOG aircraft operating out of RAF Mildenhall there is also the tanker fleet. Operating the KC-135 Stratotankers the 100 Air Refueling Wing have also been very busy supporting aircraft transiting to enforce the Libyan no fly zone as well as their usual duties. Other KC-135s do stop off at RAF Mildenhall and the middle photo is of a Utah based Stratotanker.