Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:15 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:15 | SYDNEY

Death (or just noise) from above

2 February 2010 09:31

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

Sam's Friday Linkage item on the Royal Air Force preferring 'shows of force' to actually dropping bombs proves that there is nothing new under the sun. In Iraq the same thing happened. As more strictures were placed on actually dropping bombs, either because they fell on our troops or killed more civilians than was acceptable, the Air Force invented 'shows of force'. As Sam quotes, '...the show of force is...where a combat aircraft is used to surprise Taliban insurgents by flying very low and fast over their heads, normally in full afterburner.'

This can be very effective if your troops are too close to drop a bomb or the pilot cannot clearly see the target. A low pass can keep the enemy's head down because they are likely to think that the aircraft is on a bombing run. As the low pass is made, and the enemy get down because they think it is an attack run, it gives our troops time to move to a better position because we know it not going to drop. The effect of a show of force on an enemy is measured only in seconds but that can be important.

In Iraq, as there was less need for fast moving jets in close support of ground troops, the US Air Force extended its shows of force operations to cover vast areas, and even to patrolling hundreds of miles of oil pipeline from about 5000 feet – totally ineffective, but good for pilot morale.

Much of this was to justify the Air Force's existence in Iraq, which is even more important now that the Joint Strik Fighter program is coming rapidly unstuck on operational and cost issues, and the US is in the process of once again buying the kind of slow and 'cheap' aircraft optimised for close air support of troops.

Not all that cheap, though — $2 billion for up to 100 Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft. The US Air Force wants an aircraft that can fly one combat hour for $1,000. A combat flight hour costs $7,750 for an F-16C Fighting Falcon and fully $44,000 for an F-15E Strike Eagle.