Interesting article for those who really want to broaden their horizons...
Insurgents push fighter pilots to new tactics
By Eric Talmadge - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Jul 4, 2007 15:44:15 EDT
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan â€” Controlling the air is what F-16 pilot Maj. Paul Miller does for a living. Heâ€™s now learning how to fight a ground war.
Four years into the war in Iraq, the challenges of fighting insurgents are changing the way U.S. fighter pilots approach their missions. The training has shifted from traditional tactics of air dominance to emphasize more specialized roles as eyes in the sky â€” such as locating buried bombs or honing in on small, highly mobile targets.
â€œThis is a lot more on the go,â€ Miller said from this base on Japanâ€™s northern frontier. â€œItâ€™s a pickup game.â€
With fighting insurgents, that can mean following up on intelligence and getting into areas ahead of troops to act as supersonic scouts looking for potential ambush points or bomb-rigged roads.
â€œWe may not be able to read a license plate, but we can tell you if the guy behind the bush is smoking, and whether heâ€™s smoking with his right or left hand,â€ Miller said. â€œItâ€™s that exact.â€
The demands in Iraq have also meant bringing in fighters from farther away.
Two squadrons of F-16s that normally are stationed here to keep watch on North Korea and bolster a mutual security pact with Japan have been assigned to rotate in and out of Iraq since the beginning of the year.
Miller, the training officer for the 14th Fighter Squadron, which just returned from a four-month deployment, said air superiority â€œis basically guaranteedâ€ since the Iraqi insurgents have no air power to speak of â€” although factions this year have targeted lower-flying helicopters with more accuracy.
In the first 4 months of this year, U.S. aircraft used 237 bombs and missiles in support of ground forces in Iraq, compared with 229 in all of 2006. The 14th accounted for about 50 of them.
But Miller said the demands of Iraq have pushed fighter pilots to learn new ways to fight a very different kind of opponent.
â€œIn this mission, we are protecting the guys on the ground,â€ Miller said. â€œWeâ€™re not directly involved in kicking down the doors, but we are watching the rooftops. We support raids and convoys. We provide intelligence, recon.â€
Pilots are increasingly being sent on missions over urban settings and getting intelligence that seeks to prevent deaths on the ground from hidden explosives. They do this by flying over highways or roads that will be used by military convoys and by using surveillance equipment to locate any suspicious vehicles, people or changes in terrain.
Miller declined to comment on the specifics of the technology, much of which is classified, but said the sensitivity of the equipment allows fighters to keep their distance and then stealthily zoom in for the attack.
â€œThey know if they are being followed by a Humvee, but they donâ€™t know if we are on their trail,â€ he said. â€œWe can get the bad guys after they leave areas that would involve a lot of collateral damage.â€
The F-16â€™s ability to shift from tracking to attack was demonstrated one year ago, when two fighters searching for bombs along a highway were diverted to a target near Baqubah, where they dropped two 500-pound precision bombs on a safe house where al-Qaida in Iraqâ€™s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was attending a secret meeting. He died the next day.
Miller said the F-16 pilots are still working on their ability to find bombs.
â€œWeâ€™re not 100 percent, but we can tell if the sand has been moved,â€ he said. â€œAny little bit that we can help makes a difference.â€
Crashes are rare, but an Ohio National Guard pilot was killed this month when his F-16 went down shortly after takeoff from Balad Air Base in central Iraq for a ground support mission. Another F-16 crashed last Nov. 27 in the western province of Anbar, killing the pilot.
â€œWe are at much more danger when we are on the ground,â€ Miller said. â€œIn four months, we have had only one minor injury. That was a maintenance guy hurt in a mortar attack.â€
Miller, who is in daily contact with the squadron in Iraq, said the dozen or so F-16s deployed from this base are flying an average of four sorties a week, putting in from six to nine hours per sortie. Altogether, the 14th flew more than 1,400 sorties, with 5,800 hours in the air before returning to Japan.
Along with about half the fighters in the 13th and 14th squadrons, nearly 900 personnel from this base are involved in the rotation in and out of Iraq.
â€œOf course, when weâ€™ve got a third of our base gone, you feel the pressure,â€ said Maj. John Redfield, the base spokesman.
â€œWe have an important mission here, to watch North Korea and all,â€ he said. â€œBut we have to make up the slack