Tuesday, July 17, 2007

That Air Force "Surge"

Former Spook argues that the numbers don't support the argument that the Air Force is surging sorties to match their ground counterparts in Iraq. If any place is "surging" in sorties flown, he claims it is Afghanistan. The AP story he critiques maintains there has been a sharp increase in air activity recently.

Statistics tell the story: Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006, and three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. In June, bombs dropped at a rate of more than five a day.

But, looking at the figures from 10 July 2007, and 30 July 2006, Former Spook finds no support for the theory that there are more sorties. But he notes, that's not exactly what the AP is measuring. They are measuring bombs dropped. And the number of bombs dropped is responsive to factors other than sorties flown.

In Iraq, Mr. Hanley's report of an "airpower" surge is based (in part) on a noticeable increase in the number of munitions dropped. According to information provided to the AP, Air Force and naval aircraft expended 437 bombs and missiles against Iraqi targets in the first half of 2007, compared to 86 during the same period last year. That's obviously an indication of the on-going troop surge, but it's also a product of better intelligence (from UAVs and ground-based sources) and introduction of the new, small-diameter bomb (SDB), which minimizes collateral damage, even in densely-populated urban environments.

Which makes sense because munitions delivery is probably less bomb-carrying capacity limited than targeting limited.

In reality, the number of available Air Force assets in theater has increased only slightly over the past 12 months. The service has long had the capability to carry out a sustained bombing campaign, using aircraft and personnel deployed to the region (as part of the Air Expeditionary Force concept), and other resources that could be dispatched with relatively short notice.


Blogger RWE said...

Note that during the infamous "bomb shortage" of the late 60's, during the Vietnam war, aircraft were sent on missions with smaller than normal bomb loads in order to keep the sortie rate up and make things look better than they were.

What we are seeing now might well be the opposite of that: More bombs carried on fewer aircraft to reduce O&M costs.

7/17/2007 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Fear the Reaper

Robot Air Attack Squadron Bound for Iraq By Charles J. Hanley for Associated Press

The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It's outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.

The Reaper is loaded, but there's no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada. ...

The Reaper's first combat deployment is expected in Afghanistan, and senior Air Force officers estimate it will land in Iraq sometime between this fall and next spring. They look forward to it. ...

The Associated Press has learned that the Air Force is building a 400,000-square-foot expansion of the concrete ramp area now used for Predator drones here at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad. That new staging area could be turned over to Reapers. ...

The estimated two dozen or more unmanned MQ-1 Predators now doing surveillance over Iraq, as the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, have become mainstays of the U.S. war effort, offering round-the-clock airborne "eyes" watching over road convoys, tracking nighttime insurgent movements via infrared sensors, and occasionally unleashing one of their two Hellfire missiles on a target.

From about 36,000 flying hours in 2005, the Predators are expected to log 66,000 hours this year over Iraq and Afghanistan.

The MQ-9 Reaper, when compared with the 1995-vintage Predator, represents a major evolution of the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.

At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan is comparable to the profile of the Air Force's workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high as the Predator. Most significantly, it carries many more weapons.

While the Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Reaper can carry 14 of the air-to-ground weapons or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs.

"It's not a recon squadron," Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command's air component, said of the Reapers. "It's an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability." ...

The Reaper is expected to be flown, as the Predator is, by a two-member team of pilot and sensor operator who work at computer control stations and video screens that display what the UAV "sees." Teams at Balad, housed in a hangar beside the runways, perform the takeoffs and landings, and similar teams at Nevada's Creech Air Force Base, linked to the aircraft via satellite, take over for the long hours of overflying the Iraqi landscape. ...

The new robot plane is expected to be able to stay aloft for 14 hours fully armed, watching an area and waiting for targets to emerge.

7/17/2007 08:08:00 PM  

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