Aircraft profile: The AC-130 'Spectre'
(CNN) -- The AC-130 'Spectre' aircraft, which the Pentagon says was used in Afghanistan for the first time Monday night, is one of the most devastating ground attack aircraft in the U.S. arsenal.
The four-engine, turbo-prop gunship is a modified heavily armed version of the C-130 'Hercules' transport aircraft, fitted with a formidable array of side-firing cannon positioned along the length of the fuselage.
Its primary role is to provide close air support and armed reconnaissance from a low-flying and relatively slow moving airborne platform capable of concentrating heavy firepower on ground targets such as enemy troop concentrations.
The aircraft are part of the Air Force's special operations division, normally stationed at Hurlburt Field in Florida.
It is unclear where the aircraft used over Afghanistan were based.
The AC-130 is armed with a 40-mm Bofors cannon and a 105-mm Howitzer cannon. Newer models also mount a 25-mm gun, used to saturate a target area with extremely rapid fire.
Backing up the heavy armaments are sophisticated sensor, radar and navigation systems operated by a crew of up to 14.
Its fire control system is designed to be extremely precise, placing munitions with what is described as "first round accuracy".
The aircraft also carries a wide array of defensive countermeasures including chaff and flares to counter radar and infrared-guided anti-aircraft missiles.
The latest version, the AC-130U is equipped with an armor protection system, as well as more advanced electronic warfare equipment and high resolution All Light Level Television for night operations.
A radar system enables the gunship to identify and hit targets in virtually all weather and light conditions and from a considerable distance.
The earliest version of the AC-130 was first deployed in 1967 during the Vietnam War, providing close air support for ground-based troops and inflicting heavy damage on North Vietnamese troops and equipment.
Reports at the time credited gunship crews with destroying more than 10,000 enemy vehicles. In 1989, the aircraft played a critical role in the U.S. intervention in Panama, destroying the national Defense Force Headquarters and several command and control facilities.
Two years later during the 1991 Gulf War, AC-130s, once again played a key role, providing support for ground troops and assisting the defense of desert air bases.
More recently, the aircraft was employed in combat operations in Somalia in 1993 -- the last time U.S. forces were sent on a manhunt -- when an AC-130 was used to level the house of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid.
They were also used in the NATO mission over Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing air interdiction against key targets in areas around the city of Sarajevo.
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