Angel of Death - most lethal flying artillery against terrorists
As the Hercules drops from 2,000 feet to as low as 80 feet above the battlefield, the howitzer - normally used by ground troops - fires 10 rounds a minute and has a back-up of three 25 mm Gatling cannons spewing out 7,500 rounds every 60 seconds to produce the ultimate gunship. Once a camera sighted under the fuselage has fixed on the target, it sends the co-ordinates to an onboard computer - and the 'Angel of Death' is ready to unleash its deadly load.
To dampen the recoil and avoid pushing the Hercules off course as the howitzer is fired, the gun is set on rollers which run on a small track fixed to the aircraft's superstructure. After the fire controller shouts 'Fire' the howitzer leaps back on the track and hits a hydraulic buffer that sends it back to be reloaded. The high explosive 105 mm shells, each packed with 2.5 kg of TNT, rocket towards their target at 1,548 feet per second. On contact, the shells can destroy buildings and spread shrapnel over a 'kill' area of up to 1,500 yards.
Codenamed 'Spectre' by the British Army's Special Air Service and its navy's Special Boat Service in southern Afghanistan, the lethal war machines have been deployed to spread fear among the enemy. During recent operations, British Special Forces troops have flown alongside American comrades to help pinpoint enemy targets and, in the words of one officer, "unleash hell" against the Taliban.
The gunship is used against what intelligence chiefs list as 'Tier 1 Taliban' - top-level fighters, who are constantly hunted down by British Special Forces units codenamed 'Task Force 42' and 'Task Force 444'. A Special Forces officer said: "When a group of key Taliban fighters are taken out it is referred to as 'splashing the target' - a crude description, but it works for us."
"The AC-130 really is the ultimate weapon. It is very accurate and simply vapourises the target and sends a powerful psychological message to the enemy. We have called in Spectre many times and you know the minute it starts to unleash its fury the enemy melt away. We have taken out several high-value targets on the border with Pakistan thanks to the support of the AC-130 crews," an officer said.
The 'Angel of Death' is operated by 12 crew members. There are five officers - the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, fire control officer and electronic warfare officer. They are aided by seven enlisted staff - a flight engineer, TV operator, infra-red detection set operator, loadmaster and three aerial gunners. Their specially converted aircraft can stay in the skies for 12 hours at a time and is the largest airborne gun in the world.