The AC-130H Spectre gunship is a flying-weapons platform loaded to the gills with machine guns, grenade launchers, Bofers guns, and a 105mm cannon. To direct these it has every kind of target-acquisition device known to man; television, night-vision, infra-red, thermal imaging, everything.
The original Spectre gunship was designed to bust trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Henry Zeybel, a retired Air Force navigator who was the TV guy on a Spectre in Vietnam, wrote the book Gunship. The targets were acquired by the crew, but the pilot fired all the guns. Zeybel described the best pilot he ever flew with this way. "He was firing the guns like he was keeping time to an album titled Jimi Hendrix Goes Completely Nuts." Zeybel swears that once when they were getting heavy anti-aircraft, this guy rolled a Spectre. Anybody will tell you that's impossible, with a four-engine cargo aircraft, but Zeybel swears it happened.
One thing those ships have now that they didn't have then was women in the crew. In Afghanistan there was a young Spectre weapons service officer, a Captain Allison, nicknamed "Ally, the Angel of Death."
She would get on the radio to SF guys working with the Northern Alliance. Their general, Dostum, would then contact the al-Qaeda formations they were fighting and patch Ally through. A New Yorker, still seething over 9/11, she would purr, "I understand you guys don't treat your women very well. You really should change that." She would then rain 105mm howitzer shells and 40mm grenades down on them, in a feminist statement that made her point with great conviction. (That story comes from Robin Moore's new book about Special Forces in Afghanistan, The Hunt for Bin Laden. For a good, close look at today's Special Forces in operation, I highly recommend it.)
The U.S. Special Operations Command was formed as a remedy for the ill-fated attempt to rescue the hostages held in the Iranian embassy in 1976. The failure was directly attributable to the ad hoc nature of the air support, Air Force C130s, and Marine helicopter that had no time to train properly to work together.
Credit must be given here to retired Major General Jack Singlaub. As colonel, he had commanded the studies and observation group in Vietnam, the top-secret organization that supervised commando recons and raids into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. When the Reagan administration went looking for a solution to the problems of the ill-fated raid, Singlaub had it. He'd been putting the concept together on his own for years.
(To be continued...)