Air Weapons: October 13, 2003


The widespread use of smart bombs in Iraq, and their spectacular success, has the U.S. armed forces scrambling to reorganize to take better advantage of these new capabilities. The difference in bombing effectiveness between the 1991 war, and 2003, was dramatic. In 1991, it took four aircraft sorties to take out one target, while in 2003, one aircraft sortie took out four targets. Not only were more smart bombs used in 2003 (90 percent of all bombs dropped, versus 14 percent in 1991), but the satellite guided JDAM bombs were much more effective than the laser and TV guided smart bombs of 1991. The JDAM was also easier to use in direct support of ground troops. In 1991, ten percent of the bombing missions were controlled by ground troops, versus 90 percent in 2003. The air and ground forces were much better integrated in 2003, and communications and fire control equipment was better. In particular, a combination laser range finder/ night vision binocular/GPS units were particularly useful, especially since you could plug some of them into the satellite radio to transmit the GPS coordinates for the target to the bomber above. Under considerable pressure from the army, the air force is agreeing to allow army troops call in air strikes, rather than restricting that duty to air force officers and NCOS trained for the task and assigned to army units. The new equipment makes it easier to accurately identify targets and their exact location. Thus more troops in ground units can be qualified to call in air strikes. There will still be air force teams assigned, but these will perform more of a training and supervisory role over the army target spotters, and for handling particularly tricky ground support jobs. The JDAM has made it possible for the air force to provide a lot more air support ground combat units. In the past, there was so much danger of misidentifying the target that both army troops and air force pilots preferred to leave close air support tasks to army helicopters gunships and the shrinking number of aging A-10 ground attack aircraft. But after Afghanistan and Iraq, ground troops are comfortable calling in a JDAM to hit nearby targets.


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