Air Force strikes against ISIS were less effective initially before they switched to interdiction

The Drive:
No matter how well prepared a military is, it’s never easy to shift direction rapidly to respond to new threats. One U.S. Air Force briefing suggests Pentagon’s rush to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria sent the service scrambling to find the right mix of tactics and weapons, with nearly 20 percent of its bombs failing to achieve the desired effect within the first four months of the bombing campaign and potentially contributing to an ongoing shortfall of certain bombs and missiles.

On Aug. 7, 2014, the United States kicks off air strikes against the brutal terrorists in Iraq, beginning attacks on its members in neighboring Syria the following month. But between August and November 2014, the Air Force saw between 11 and 19 percent of weapons either not have the intended effect or not detonate entirely, according to a briefing Air Force Major Brian Baker gave at the National Defense Industry Association’s Precision Strike Annual Review in March 2017. At the time, Baker was one of the American representatives at the multi-national Air and Space Interoperability Council, which included individuals from all of the so-called “Five Eyes” countries – the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

The main reason for this was that the Air Force had initially shifted forces from Afghanistan, who had been primarily providing close air support and other counter-insurgency type missions, to the new fight in Iraq, he explained. By comparison, the situation in Iraq and Syria was “more similar to air interdiction – disguised as CAS [close air support].”

In general, CAS is supposed to describe strikes on targets that are actively engaged with friendly forces on the ground. Interdiction refers to attacks on the enemy before they get to an actual battle. Baker’s description matches up with what a public affairs officer for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve told me about aerial missions against ISIS all the way back in January 2015. At that time, there was some confusion in the official categorization of the missions.
But once engaged against ISIS, the Air Force found itself interdicting a “drastically different target set,” Baker noted. This included large structures, bridges, armored vehicles, and other hard targets, rather than just lightly armed insurgents in the open. Peppering these targets with a burst of fragments might rattle the occupants, but couldn’t incapacitate them or destroy their cover. If the proximity fuze had a delay in detecting an object or didn’t sense anything due to a low impact angle, the weapon might not go off at all. On top of that, the bombs wouldn’t have been useful at all for knocking out tanks, bridges, or tunnels.
There is much more.

It is surprising that it took the commanders so long to figure this out.  I suspect that greater input from pilots would have accelerated the change to more effective munitions.  Again the A-10 seems like the ideal weapon for this new roll.


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