June 28, 2007:
The U.S. Air Force is trying to get the army
to stop using Predator UAVs and F-16 fighters to look for roadside bombs (IEDs,
or improvised explosive devices). Recently, air force generals pointed out that
the number of IEDs spotted by Predators, or F-16 targeting pods was very low.
The army has been having much more success with specialized photo-recon
aircraft (that take pictures of the exact same area, a few hours later, so that
any recent digging or bomb placing will be obvious.)
The air force wants to
reduce the amount of time its aircraft are in the air, as even a Predator costs
several thousand dollars an hour to fly. That said, the fighter pilots like to
get involved, and help out. But rather than patrol roads looking for IEDS, the
fighter jocks prefer to be there when there's a battle going on, or bad guys
are known to be out and about. For that, the fighter pilots will even come in
low and use their 20mm cannon against ground targets.
The air force has not had
a lot to do in Iraq or Afghanistan. Smart bombs have greatly reduced the
workload for bombers and fighters. The army now has MLRS rockets with the same
guidance systems used by smart bombs,
and prefer to use them in many cases because the rocket warhead is smaller and
causes less collateral damage than a 500 pound smart bomb. There is still work
for the fighters and Predators, but it is intermittent, and the air force would
rather not fill the down time with IED patrols that rarely spot anything.