Air Weapons: Too Damn Good To Replace


August 20, 2007: The U.S. Air Force never used the laser guided Maverick missile, and then discovered it was the ideal version of the Maverick for combat in Iraq. In fact, only the Navy (and Marine Corps) bought the laser guided Maverick. The air force used the TV and infrared guided versions. But in actual practice, the laser guided model was the most accurate, and this proved decisive in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the target is sometimes a moving truck (full of bad guys trying to escape), or a roomful of terrorists in a densely populated neighborhood. In both cases, you want to hit a small target, and not kill nearby civilians. The laser guided Maverick proved to be the best weapon.

Note that the air force only dropped 177 smart bombs in Iraq last year, and only fired 52 Hellfire (from Predators) or Maverick missiles. Activity is up this year, but still minuscule compared to past wars. So every smart bomb or missile counts, and accuracy is very important. Meanwhile, army and marine helicopters fired ten times as many missiles, as well as over 10,000 70mm unguided rockets and over 10 million rounds of cannon and machine-gun ammunition. This year, the air forces is using a lot more Maverick missiles, and is borrowing laser guided versions from the navy.

The relative paucity of aerial firepower employed has everything to do with the rules of engagement and the desire to minimize civilian casualties. On the ground this pays off, although foreign media use any civilian casualty (or imagined casualties, if they cannot find any real ones) as an indictment of trigger happy American troops. No good deed goes unpunished.

In Iraq, enemy snipers have learned that being in a building that a pilot can get a shot at is not a good idea. Pilots have also used Maverick missiles to take out snipers, or rooms where enemy troops are located. The 400-600 pound Mavericks comes with a 125 pound or 300 pound warhead. This allows the Maverick to be used when friendly troops are nearby, the only alternative being the 500 pound smart bomb.

The Maverick, which has a max range of 25 kilometers, has been in use for 35 years. Recent attempts to replace it with a more modern missile failed because, well, Maverick still gets the job done. The air force is trying to get production resumed on the laser guided Maverick.




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