Ground-attack aircraft are military aircraft designed to attack targets on the ground and are often deployed as close air support for, and in proximity to, their own ground forces. The proximity to friendly forces require precision strikes from these aircraft that are not possible with typical bomber aircraft.
Attack aircraft are typically slower and less maneuverable than air-combat fighters but carry a large and varied load of weapons (automatic cannons, machine guns, rockets, guided missiles, and bombs) and have the ability to fly close to the ground.
They are usually deployed as close air support to ground forces, their role is tactical rather than strategic, operating at the front of the battle rather than against targets deeper in the enemy's rear. As such, they are often attached to and in the direct command and control structures of army units as opposed to air force units, though tactical air forces attached to army formations are still an organic part of the air force and ultimately under air-force command. Ground attack aircraft or "close air support" aircraft are designed to loiter over a battlefield and attack tactical targets, such as tanks, troop concentrations, etc.
A number of names have or are used for ground-attack aircraft: attack aircraft, fighter-bomber, tactical fighter, tank-buster, tactical bomber, strafer, strike aircraft, attack helicopter, gunship, etc. A light strike aircraft is another category, based on adapted trainers or other light aircraft.
Like most combat aircraft classifications, the definition of ground attack is somewhat vague. A key difference between it and otherwise similar designs like attack aircraft is the expectation that they will receive small arms fire and are generally armored to protect the pilot against this threat. In general a ground-attack aircraft will also be smaller and more "fighter like" than designs like strike fighters, attack aircraft or interdictors.
Attack helicopters loaded with machine guns, automatic cannon, and anti-tank rockets and missiles have also tended to assume the close-support functions of fixed-wing aircraft.
The A-10 is more commonly known by its nickname "Warthog" or simply "Hog." The A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs have excellent maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and are highly accurate weapons-delivery platforms. Their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines. Using night vision goggles, A-10 pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.
The AC-130 Gunship is a heavily-armed ground-attack aircraft. The gunship's sole user is the United States Air Force, which uses AC-130H Spectre and AC-130U Spooky variants. The AC-130 is powered by four turboprops and has an armament ranging from 20 mm Gatling guns to 105 mm howitzers. The AC-130 gunship's primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Missions in close air support are troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include air base defense and facilities defense. These heavily-armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation and fire control systems to provide precision firepower or area-saturation fire with its varied armament.