December 21, 2005

Air Power Over Iraq

Hatched by Sachi

We've long known that our attacks against the terrorists in Iraq intensified leading up to last Thursday’s election. But we're just starting to find out how much air power was utilized. This AP story has the figures:

The number of U.S. air strikes increased in the weeks leading up to last Thursday's election, from a monthly average of about 35 last summer to more than 60 in September and 120 or more [per month] in October and November. The monthly number of air missions, including refueling and other support flights, grew from 1,111 in September to 1,492 in November, according to figures provided by Central Command Air Force's public affairs office. [Emphasis added]

One of the most effective weapons against the terrorists -- beloved by the troops but considered a "war crime" by former attorney general and current Saddam Hussein defender "Ramzi" Clark -- are the unmanned, remotely controlled Predator drones. While their surveillance capability is pretty well known, many Americans have no idea they're also used for air-to-surface attacks. The RQ-1 Predator (and the Navy/Marine version, the Mariner) carries a pair of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, which have a range of up to five miles and can fly nearly 1,000 mph.

The Hellfire -- yet another silly, reverse-engineered acronym, standing for Helicopter-launched fire-and-forget, even though most models are not fire-and-forget, requiring someone on the ground to continuously "paint" the target with a laser -- is primarily an anti-tank weapon, but it can be used against any fortified position. It typically carries a HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead, which, despite being designed to destroy Sovet armor, still manages to work pretty well on pickup trucks, SUVs, and VBIEDs (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices) -- which quickly become Airborne Already-Exploded Devices (AIRBALED).

An RQ-1 Predator Drone    The Hellfire missile fired by the Predator

RQ-1 Predator drone (l) and one of the two Hellfire missiles it carries (r)

From the Associated Press:

The role of the Air Force Predator is not secret but has been largely lost in the clutter of violence on the ground. At least five times this month an unmanned Predator flown remotely by airmen at flight consoles at an Air Force base in Nevada has struck targets in Iraq, mostly in insurgent strongholds in western Anbar province.

Gen. Michael T. Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview with reporters at the Pentagon last Tuesday that Predators are attacking targets in either Iraq or Afghanistan "almost every day." He gave no details.

The training of the Iraqi ground and mechanized army has been largely successful. However, Iraq still has virtually no air force. When the American troops finally begin to leave Iraq, we will still need to give the Iraqis air support for some time; but the good news is that training of Irqi airmen has already started.

The action by U.S. aircraft comes with the nascent Iraqi air force having no offensive strike capability. Late last month the crew of one of Iraq's three U.S.-donated C-130 cargo planes flew a mission without a U.S. instructor aboard for the first time.

Hence, previous missions did have American instructors on board; we have been training Iraqi pilots and flight officers for an unknown period of time. The next step is to build up the Iraqi Air Force, probably relying to some extent upon former Saddam Hussein pilots and other aviation officers. If we're worried about the loyalty and reliability of such men, it's easy enough to restrict their role to that of flight instructors and instructors in basic aviation intelligence, meteorology, ground ops, communications, maintenance, and other vital elements that do not put them in the position to fire missiles at anyone.

Iraq also needs a patrol-boat navy to stop terrorists from landing in the Umm Qasr region on the Persion Gulf and to patrol up and down the riverways in Iraq (perhaps Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and his magic hat could pop round and give them some advice and a pep-talk). But an Iraqi navy is a subject for a later post.

Looks like the US still has a lot of work ahead. Thankfully, the longer we're there, the less actual ground combat we will be seeing... and the more our mission will shift to mentoring, training -- and of course, close air support.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, December 21, 2005, at the time of 6:17 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Bill M

And the best part of the Predator is it's ability to strike out of nowhere. Since it's stealthy, small, flies high, etc., the bad guys don't even know it's there. A bolt from the blue (or maybe a bolt from Allah!).

The above hissed in response by: Bill M [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2005 6:57 PM

The following hissed in response by: RBMN

Too bad Santa doesn't have any Hellfire missles on his sled, 'cause he gets around, and he knows who's naughty....

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2005 11:09 PM

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