A-6 & A-7
Entering VA-85 service in December 1971, A-6Es were frequently upgraded with new electronics, and J52-P-408 engines. Improving night bombing accuracy became the main direction of attack technology. Delivery began in December 1978 on new TRAM (Target-Recognition Attack Multi-sensors) A-6Es, including a new ASN-92 inertial navigation system as well as APQ-156 radar, AAS-33 infrared sensor and laser designator in a 20-inch turret under the nose.
Enough older models added TRAM suites to become the fleet standard, with combinations up to four AGM-65, AGM-78 and AGM-84 missiles, 28 500–pound or four 2,000–pound bombs. Targets were acquired by radar, image enlarged by infrared and designated by laser beam
The AGM-84 Harpoon was first used in combat when VA-85 Intruders struck Libyan missile boats on March 24/25, 1986. A conflict at sea with Iran resulted in a frigate being sunk by an A-6E’s Harpoon on April 18, 1988. Laser-guided Paveway II bombs (LGB), like the rocket-boosted 1,000-pound AGM-123A Skipper, also became available.
To extend service life, 178 new Boeing composite wings were provided to rebuild Intruders. Five new A-6Fs were built as “Intruder II” in hopes of extending production. First flown on August 26, 1989, they introduced 10,800-pound thrust F404-GE-400D turbofans, APQ-173 radar, and a new fuel system, but the Navy was then committed to the A-12 project, and no more A-6Fs appeared.
Intruders from VA-35 began Gulf War strikes on January 17, 1991, slamming 2,000-pound bombs into the hardened hangars of an Iraqi air base, and launching small ADM decoy gliders to confuse the enemy. Eight Navy A-6E squadrons from carriers were joined in the war by two Marine A-6E squadrons based in Bahrain. EA-6Bs shielded coalition aircraft with radar jamming and HARM missiles, and only four of 115 A-6Es were lost in combat.
The last of 708 Intruders was an A-6E delivered on January 31, 1992. Sixteen A-6E Navy medium attack squadrons and five Marine squadrons were gradually decommissioned. After 36 years of service, VA-75 retired its last Intruder in February 1997. Future carrier attack missions would be assigned to the F/A-18 Hornets.
An unusual variation in attack planes was the gunship program improvised for the Vietnam War. The idea was to fit guns into available conventional transport planes that had the endurance for night patrols.
Gunship I was the oldest plane in the USAF, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92D Wasps. Two improvised aircraft had been combat tested in Vietnam in December 1964. On July 27, 1965, the Air Force ordered 26 aircraft modified to AC-47D gunships by Air International at Miami, Florida. The first was delivered on August 9, and 53 were completed by December 23, 1967.
Three 7.62-mm GAU-2B/A guns were installed in the port cargo door and the two nearest windows with 21,000 rounds, 45 flares, and up to 1,602 gallons of fuel. Three
of the seven crewmen loaded but did not aim the guns;
the pilot did that while making a left pylon turn around the target. Slant range, which varied with angle, was about 6,000 feet in a 20-degree bank. The AC-47D would cruise about 140 mph from two to three thousand feet altitude above a threatened friendly outpost, illuminating the enemy with flares and banking left to fire its three 6,000-rounds-per-minute weapons.
Arriving in Vietnam on November 23, 1965, the 4th Air Commando Squadron flew 22,752 combat sorties in its first year’s operations. After the 14th Air Commando Squadron was activated in October 1967, AC-47D strength was increased from 22 to 33 aircraft. Of 47 AC-47s sent to Vietnam, 12 were lost to enemy action. When newer AC-130 and AC-119 types arrived, 16 AC-47Ds were transferred to the VNAF in 1969, and eight went to a Royal Laotian squadron.
Gunship II conversions were of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, powered by four Allison T56-P-9 turboprops. Four 20-mm M-61 Vulcan and four 7.62-mm GAU-2B/A guns were lined up on the port side and the spacious cabin had room for an analog computer fire control, APQ-113 computer, infrared sensor, searchlight and image intensification sights.
An AC-130A converted from a C-130A began flight tests on June 12, 1967, at Eglin AFB and arrived in Viet Nam on September 21. Gunship II flew combat missions until November 18, 1968, and then returned to America for repair and evaluation.
Seven more conversions ordered on February 13, 1968, were delivered from August to December, and suffered their first loss to 37-mm AAA on May 24, 1969. A new “Surprise Package” conversion, with improved digital fire control and sensors, laser target designator, and two of the 20-mm guns replaced by 40-mm weapons, began arriving at Ubon, Thailand, in December 1969.
Successful night interdiction missions destroyed thousands of enemy trucks, so Surprise Package modifications were made to five updated AC-130As and ten more C-130As in 1970. Heavier armor and more ammunition were carried by 11 AC-130E Pave Aegis, the first completed in June 1971, with a 105-mm cannon replacing the aft 40-mm gun.
The big Lockheed gunships were effective in Vietnam, but it was evident that they might not survive sophisticated defenses or fighter opposition. In 1973, ten AC-130Es returned home for conversion to AC-130H Spectre models with T56-A-15 engines and added equipment, and were stationed at Hurlburt Field for TAC’s 1st Special Operations Wing.
Gunship III conversions were of the Fairchild Hiller
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C-119 Flying Boxcars with two Wright R-3350-89 engines. Twenty-six AC-119Gs were delivered from May 21 to October 11, 1968, with four six-barrel 7.62-mm GAU-2 guns pointed out the port sides, 27,000 rounds, flares, and an AVQ-8 illuminator light set and night observation system. They were followed in September by the first of 26 AC-119K gunships, which added a pair of J85 jets under the wings to boost takeoff power, two 20-mm M61Al guns with 600 rounds, FLIR infrared sensor, and new radar.
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