Artillery: May 7, 2003

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The Iraq campaign saw much less cooperation between air and ground units than was the case in Afghanistan. Part of this had to do that the ground units in Iraq had their artillery and helicopter gunships with them. So in Iraq, the air force fought their own war, going after Iraqi units far ahead of the advancing coalition ground units. Even the A-10s, designed to operate closely with friendly ground units, spent most of their time way in front of friendly armor. This was also the case with marine warplanes, which take pride in their skill in working closely with marines on the ground. This approach to using airpower made sense. American artillery, in particular, has improved their effectiveness even since 1991 (when they put in an impressive performance during a five day ground campaign, and several weeks before that as they joined with the air force in battering Iraqi troops.) Even the helicopter gunships spent a lot of time way in front of the troops. This was partially because it can get tricky when you are using artillery and helicopters in the same air space. The helicopters do have to watch out for those 90 pound artillery shells (or the even larger MLRS rockets.) As far as the army was concerned, the air force served as very long range artillery. One problem that remained was the inability to meld the artillery and bomber operations. This is supposed to be done at higher headquarters, and efforts were made to develop "combined (bomber and artillery) fire plans." But as a practical matter, the air force kept a close eye on friendly ground forces (using JSTARS radar aircraft) to avoid friendly fire, and then tried to smash Iraqi units in the path of advancing army and marine units. The only ground troops who used bombers as they did in Afghanistan were Special Forces and commandos. The air force considered these small groups of elite infantry as excellent solutions to the problem of spotting well hidden Iraqi targets.

 


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