Afghanistan: October 18, 2001


Afghanistan Air Campaign Notes

@ The US Navy remains short of land-based tankers and the Air Force is still unwilling to share. Navy planes from the carriers are doing the "Guadalcanal shuffle" (refueling at Pakistani bases on the way back, when they have no bombs). On the way to the target, they refuel from British RAF tankers.

@ As small as it is, the Afghan Air Campaign is demonstrating that the US is critically short of special-mission aircraft such as E-3 AWACS, E-8 JSTARS ground surveillance radar planes, EC-130 Commando Solos, RC-135 Rivet Joints, and EP-3E Aries III snooper planes.

@ Bombing accuracy has been good, with 85% of the targets that were attacked being destroyed or heavily damaged.

@ The EC-130s have been broadcasting the US view of the conflict on radio and television channels, drowning out the local Afghan stations. (There are very few televisions in Afghanistan, but these are now showing the USAF station.)

@ The CIA was flying Gnat-1 recon drones over Kabul by late September, and intensified such flights on 6 Oct. 

@ The first target of the air campaign was, as expected, the air defenses and communications nodes. The intention was to destroy the Taliban's ground-wire communications system, forcing them to use radio which can be intercepted, tracked, or jammed as needed.

@ The two B-2 bombers that attacked on the first night landed in Diego Garcia. The B-1Bs are mostly carrying unguided 500-pound Mark-82 bombs and are conducting saturation attacks. B-52s flew over defended targets on the first night despite their massive radar signatures, dropping 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions. Only Navy cruise missiles were used as the Air Force is too short of them.

@ The first night's attacks hit 31 targets with 50 missiles, 15 bombers, and 25 Navy attack planes. Some EA-6B jammer planes were used, along with vast fleets of aerial tankers.

@ The second night's attacks hit 13 targets with five bombers and 10 carrier-based attack planes.

@ The air campaign quickly ran out of targets after the first four days, but the target list is now rapidly expanding. Special forces units on the ground have located bases, depots, camps, caves, small airfields, and dozens of other worthwhile targets.--Stephen V Cole

@ Britain has sent Nimrod R1 electronic intel aircraft to the war, as well as tankers, E-3D AWACS, and Canberra PR9 recon aircraft.

@ Canada has authorized its soldiers who are serving in US Army units to deploy to the war with those units. Some Canadians are being shuffled into US units likely to deploy so they can gain experience and take it back to their own Army. (Australia has authorized its soldiers who serve in British SAS units to deploy with them, and some are in Afghanistan even now.) Canada has also sent P-3 Aurora and C-130 aircraft to support the US campaign.

@ NATO has sent five E-3 AWACS planes to the US to provide local security while US AWACS deploy to the war.

@ Japan sent six C-130s on one round trip to Pakistan to deliver 36 tons of humanitarian supplies. 

@ Humanitarian airdrops are made by C-17s flying 20-hour round trips. The humanitarian rations are packed in huge cardboard bins that are ripped apart by a lanyard tied to the plane, scattering the meals over an area one mile wide and three miles long. Because the crews have to work in depressurized cargo bays during the drop, they have to be fed special diets, breathe oxygen, and wear special insulated uniforms.

@ The air defense threat in Afghanistan is relatively minor, so long as the aircraft stay high enough that shoulder-launched missiles and 23mm guns cannot reach them. Virtually all of the radar-guided anti-aircraft missiles were destroyed by the third day (and out of action when their radars were destroyed on the first night). US aircraft are unprepared to deal with a heat-seeking threat, as equipment that could detect the approach of such missiles hasn't been widely deployed (even though it was tested more than a decade ago).

@ The doctrine of the Kosovo War (no mission goes forward without an EA-6B airborne jamming aircraft) has been continued. These aircraft have been given another system, the USQ-113 communications jammer. The EA-6B Prowlers are using this system to disrupt Taliban reactions and defenses more than they are using their radar jammers. VAQ-137, the Prowler squadron on the Theodore Roosevelt, is the first to be issued Night Vision Goggles. --Stephen V Cole


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