Afghan Buildup Sketched
The Air Force’s presence inside Afghanistan will grow by more than 30 percent in coming months as the US military surges forces there, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said April 7 during a visit to Southwest Asia.
From a current force of 5,000 inside that country, the Air Force is “probably going to grow to about 6,600 or so,” Schwartz told airmen of the 586th Air Expeditionary Group at an air base in the region. “It will be the full breadth of capabilities, from intelligence to defenders to combat support on installations to the aviation missions of all kinds and space, as well,” he explained.
This buildup will occur as the manpower requirements in Iraq subside and US forces there draw down to 50,000 or below by the summer of 2010 as outlined by the Obama Administration. Schwartz said the Air Force will play a significant role in facilitating that drawdown.
Airman Dies in Kabul
Airman First Class Jacob I. Ramsey, 20, of Hesperia, Calif., died April 10 of injuries sustained from a noncombat-related incident in Kabul, Afghanistan. As of mid-May, the circumstances surrounding his death were under investigation.
Ramsey had been deployed to Afghanistan from the 712th Air Support Operations Squadron at Ft. Hood, Tex.
ICBMs First To Transfer
The Air Force’s Minuteman III ICBM force likely will be the first of the service’s nuclear legs to transfer to Air Force Global Strike Command later this year, followed by the B-2A and B-52H nuclear-capable bombers, Maj. Gen. C. Donald Alston, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said April 24 during a National Defense University Foundation breakfast on Capitol Hill.
Global Strike Command, the Air Force’s fledgling nuclear-centric major command, is expected to commence formal operations at the end of September at Barksdale AFB, La., but Alston said the ICBMs likely will not shift from Air Force Space Command’s operational control to AFGSC until “closer to the end of the year,” while the bombers come over from Air Combat Command “soon after that.”
He repeated the Air Force’s message that the transfer of the ICBMs and bombers is a very deliberate process and will not be rushed to meet an arbitrary schedule. “We will transfer that responsibility when we are ready,” he said.
Space Command Divests
Air Force Space Command will lose about 3,000 slots as it divests itself of its ICBM mission and absorbs the growing cyber warfare role, taking on the new 24th Air Force, the service’s new cyberspace central, AFSPC Commander Gen. C. Robert Kehler said March 31.
Speaking with reporters during a Space Foundation symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Kehler said AFSPC would shift some 10,000 ICBM slots over to Air Force Global Strike Command, which is assuming the ICBM mission later this year, but will pick up some 7,000 positions with acquisition of 24th Air Force.
Of the 7,000 cyber slots flowing into AFSPC, a portion will be Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command, as well as contract support personnel—many of whom are currently working in other areas, such as the Air Force Communications Agency, he said.
F-35 To Haul Nukes?
The Department of Defense is working with allies to give the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons, Maj. Gen. C. Donald Alston, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said April 22.
“We have a cooperative effort under way to move the F-35 into nuclear capability,” Alston said at a National Institute for Public Policy conference in Arlington, Va. The F-35 has an operational requirement to be dual-capable—that is, the ability to deliver either conventional or nuclear weapons—but the nuclear capacity is not yet funded.
The Secretary of Defense Task Force on DOD Nuclear Weapons Management warned in December 2008 that DOD “must ensure that the dual-capable F-35 remains on schedule” to support the future US extended nuclear deterrent to NATO and other allies.
DOD Launches QDR, NPR
The Department of Defense announced April 23 that it had formally begun work on the next Quadrennial Defense Review and Nuclear Posture Review.
The QDR, which is due to Congress in early 2010 will “address emerging challenges and explore ways to improve the balance of efforts and resources between trying to prevail in current conflicts and preparing for future contingencies,” according to DOD’s announcement.
The goal of the NPR, the last of which was done in 2002, is to set strategy and policy for the next five to 10 years and to serve as “a basis for the negotiation of a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” said DOD. The Pentagon will conduct it in concert with the Departments of Energy and State and submit it to Congress along with the QDR.
New Spy Sats Approved
The Department of Defense and Intelligence Community intend to procure new imagery satellites and make greater use of services provided by commercial satellite imagery providers under a “2 plus 2” plan approved in April by the Obama Administration to modernize the nation’s aging spy satellite architecture.
In a release April 7, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said the joint initiative with DOD is “an integrated, sustainable approach” that would ensure that the nation “will not have imagery gaps” looking forward. “We are living with the consequences of past mistakes in acquisition strategy, and we cannot afford to do so again,” he said.
The new imagery satellites would be “evolved from existing designs,” Blair said. The new commercial elements of the architecture would likely be available in the next several years, while the overall architecture would be fully deployed “before the end of the next decade,” he said.
Senators Slam C-17 Cuts
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), head of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s airland panel, said April 6 he disagrees with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ decision to stop production of Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transports at 205 units.
“Every combatant commander I speak to tells me that we need more of these aircraft, and I will work to make sure they stay in production,” Lieberman said in a release. Gates had earlier that day presented his major recommendations for the Department of Defense’s Fiscal 2010 budget to the press, which included completing the US military’s production run of C-17s at 205 aircraft.
In a separate statement April 6, Sen. Christoper S. Bond (R-Mo.) also criticized the move, questioning the logic of rendering a decision before the results of the Pentagon’s Mobility Capability Study are known around June. In fact, he called it “premature” and “an example of ready, fire, aim.”
Congress Gets War Bill
The Obama Administration submitted an $83.4 billion supplemental spending package for Fiscal 2009 to Congress on April 9 that includes $75.5 billion to sustain the US military’s operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The White House said this is “the last planned war supplemental.”
The bill includes $6.3 billion for Air Force operations and maintenance, $1.4 billion for personnel costs, and $281 million for military construction, principally in Afghanistan. The request also allots $2.4 billion for USAF aircraft procurement, including $600 million to buy four F-22s, $196 million for 10 MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, $45 million for six manned C-12 aircraft as well as various UAV upgrades, targeting pods, and multiple manned aircraft enhancements.
Among the additional USAF funding lines are $1.8 billion for equipment such as ground vehicles and $57.4 million for Hellfire missiles for MQ-1 Predators UAVs.
Second WGS On Orbit
The Air Force successfully launched the second of its Wideband Global SATCOM military communication satellites into orbit on April 3 from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., aboard an Atlas V rocket.
Boeing, the satellite’s manufacturer, subsequently announced April 6 that it had acquired the first on-orbit signals from the spacecraft, which is designated WGS-2, indicating that “the spacecraft is healthy and ready to begin orbital maneuvers and operational testing.” Following a series of orbital maneuvers and on-orbit testing, WGS-2 was expected to begin operations, joining WGS-1, which was placed in space in October 2007 and entered service in April 2008.
Boeing is under contract to build a total of six WGS satellites to augment and eventually replace Defense Satellite Communications System satellites. They will provide a giant leap in communications bandwidth throughput.
USAFE Gets First C-130J
US Air Forces in Europe on April 7 celebrated the arrival of its first C-130J Super Hercules transport. The aircraft is the first of 14 that will be delivered to Ramstein AB, Germany, by 2010. They will be part of Ramstein’s 86th Airlift Wing, replacing the aged C-130Es that the wing’s 37th Airlift Squadron has been operating.
“USAFE truly does bring a lot to the fight, in particular the vital airlift capability we provide in the Global War on Terror and vital humanitarian operations the world over,” Gen. Roger A. Brady, USAFE commander, said during the welcoming ceremony. He added, “The C-130J will give us an even greater capacity to perform all those missions.”
Ramstein is scheduled to receive 10 C-130Js this year and the remaining four next year, according to C-130J manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Avenger UAV Revealed
After several years of secrecy, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., in April unveiled its semi-stealthy, jet-powered Predator C unmanned aerial vehicle, which it dubs Avenger. The company said the multirole UAV flew for the first time April 4 at the company’s flight operations facility in Palmdale, Calif. A test program is now ongoing.
Avenger, which was built with company funds, is the latest offering in the company’s Predator UAV family that includes the Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B). It is designed to be more survivable in higher threat environments and provide a quick response armed reconnaissance capability.
The Pratt & Whitney PW545B engine gives it the ability to fly at more than 460 mph and operate at up to 60,000 feet. Supporters on Capitol Hill are lobbying for the Department of Defense to sponsor further Predator C development.
SBSS Satellite Complete
Manufacture and test of the Space Based Space Surveillance pathfinder satellite has been completed on budget and on schedule, Gary E. Payton, the Air Force’s deputy undersecretary for space programs, said April 2. Launch of the satellite is expected around July.
“This is an acquisition success in space,” Payton told reporters during a Space Foundation symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. He said the satellite was ready for shipment to its launch site and project engineers were working to resolve a few “potential technical issues” associated with the SBSS launch vehicle, an Orbital Sciences Minotaur rocket, after an anomaly with similar booster in February doomed the successful placement in orbit of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite.
SBSS will monitor objects in geosynchronous orbit from its own position in low Earth orbit. Boeing leads the industry team, which includes Ball Aerospace, that is supplying the spacecraft.
ANG C-5 Wing Gains IOC
The West Virginia Air National Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing was formally dedicated as a fully operational C-5 Galaxy strategic transport unit April 4 at a ceremony in Martinsburg.
“It has been a challenging and exciting 10-year journey to reach this day,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who took part in the ceremony. He harkened back to the unit’s early days, flying P-51 Mustangs, switching in the early 1970s to an airlift role with the C-130 Hercules tactical transport, and surviving Pentagon plans to shutter the unit entirely.
The years of work, along with more than $220 million worth of military construction, “has transformed the 167th Airlift Wing into the nation’s premier C-5 facility,” said Col. Roger L. Nye, wing commander, The Herald Mail of Hagerstown, Md., reported April 4. The wing actually flew its first C-5 mission in March 2007.
Holloman UAV Class Graduates
The first 11 unmanned aerial vehicle system crews trained at Holloman AFB, N.M., graduated April 10 after 10 weeks of instruction. These airmen—11 pilots and 11 sensor operators—are now full-fledged MQ-9 Reaper operators and were expected to support combat operations in Afghanistan starting in May.
Air Combat Command announced last year that it wanted to begin MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 operator training at Holloman to augment and eventually replace the formal training unit at Creech AFB, Nev. Due to the urgency of training new UAV operators to support operations in Southwest Asia, ACC commenced training at Holloman before completion of the environmental assessment of adding the new mission at the New Mexico base.
The Air Force in March released the environmental impact analysis, finding no significant impediment to using Holloman in this role.
Reserve Recruiting Broadens
Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., Air Force Reserve chief and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, said in early April he is making a push to attract new members to the Reserve who have no prior Air Force experience, as part of his efforts to keep recruiting numbers strong for his component.
“We’re seeing fewer and fewer prior service [Reservists],” said Stenner during a tour of air bases in Southwest Asia. Accordingly, he said, “We’re looking very hard at recruiting non-prior-service folks who want to participate.”
Air Force Reserve Command also remains focused on enticing airmen who are leaving the active duty component to join the Reserve organization. “These highly trained and highly skilled individuals can continue to participate as their lives evolve,” he said. AFRC recruiting has remained strong, consistent with trends for the Air Force and US military overall.
Developers Eye Beale Site
The Air Force announced April 8 that it was poised to begin negotiations with representatives of a commercial land developer for the use of 334 acres of undeveloped prairie land on Beale AFB, Calif.
Kathleen I. Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, chose Beale Community Partners, LLC, on March 31 from among the bidders responding to a May 2008 solicitation, after its proposal was ranked as most promising.
The Air Force Real Property Agency is pursuing this initiative under the Department of Defense’s Enhanced Use Lease initiative, which makes underutilized land on military bases available to private developers for commercial uses. Possible uses of the Beale land include light industrial facilities, a wastewater treatment plant, and a rail accessible development.
C-17 Pushed for Stewart
New York lawmakers Rep. John J. Hall (D) and Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D) sent a letter to Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz March 31 asking for an update on the status of the C-17 Globemaster III airlifters promised for the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart ANG Base.
They said they were concerned after learning that the Air Force no longer plans to use the additional 15 C-17s funded in Fiscal 2008 supplemental appropriations to “cascade” C-17s to the wing in 2010. Instead, they wrote, these airlifters “will be used as backup aircraft inventory” for the active force until USAF completes the Mobility Capability Study this fall.
The move will delay force stationing decisions “until at least 2010” and “will jeopardize the future of the wing,” which flies some of the oldest C-5A Galaxy airlifters in the inventory, they wrote.
Laser Maverick Deal Struck
Raytheon announced a contract on April 2 to supply the Air Force with a new variant of the laser guided AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile called the AGM 65E2 Laser Maverick. This new version will feature state-of-the-art laser seeker technology and an upgraded control section that will enable close air support platforms to use it to attack high-speed moving targets precisely in urban settings.
Under the deal, Raytheon will provide upgraded components for up to 450 AGM-65E2s, with first deliveries of the new components expected in 20 to 24 months.
US Central Command identified an urgent operational need in 2007 for the means to counter fleeting targets in urban environments with minimal chances of collateral effects. The Air Force identified the new Laser Maverick to address the need, as well as the Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition, which has already been used in combat.
P&W Advances F100 Engine
Pratt & Whitney announced March 26 that it has begun production on the first F100-PW-229 engine enhancement package, the latest evolution in the F100 series that powers F-15 and F-16 fighters.
Warren Boley, vice president of P&W military programs and customer support, called EEP another example of the company’s “pioneering work in fighter engine technology,” adding that it offers “superior performance” and “reduces maintenance and life cycle costs at a time when value and efficiency are top priorities on the nation’s agenda.”
P&W plans to begin delivery of the new configuration in October and upgrade kits for existing 229 engines by the end of 2010. USAF and several other operators of the F100-PW-229 engine “have expressed interest in having upgrade kits to modify their existing engines,” said Boley.
Airmen Receive Bronze Star Medals
TSgt. Gregory R. Pauli, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Airport, received a Bronze Star Medal with Valor Device April 5, for his actions as an active duty EOD team leader in Afghanistan in June 2007. After his convoy came under attack and the first vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device, Pauli, then a staff sergeant, played a leading role in helping the wounded, securing the perimeter, and rallying his troops for rescue efforts.
Airmen receiving Bronze Star Medals for meritorious service in Iraq were: Col. Calvin Williams, vice commander of the 75th Air Base Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, on March 17; Capt. Josh Aultman at Sather AB, Iraq, on April 15; Capt. James D. Couch from the 349th Recruitment Squadron, Tinker AFB, Okla.; TSgt. Brendan Brown, 87th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD Flight at McGuire AFB, N.J., on April 6; TSgt. David Townsend, 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Whiteman AFB, Mo., on April 16 (presented by Vice President Joe Biden); and SSgt. Peter Arbelo, 87th CES EOD Flight, at McGuire, on April 6.
Earning the medal for exceptional service in Afghanistan were TSgt. Timothy Bayes, 782nd Training Group, Det. 6, at Gulfport, Miss., March 30; and TSgt. Wendell Snider, 782nd TRG, Det. 6, at McGuire, March 30.
Vietnam War Pilot Remains Identified
The remains of Lt. Col. Earl P. Hopper Jr., an F-4D Phantom pilot missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and were returned to his family, the Department of Defense announced April 2.
Hopper’s F-4D was shot down by a surface-to-air missile during a mission near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Jan. 10, 1968. While his copilot, Capt. Keith Hall, was able to eject and was subsequently captured and held as a prisoner of war until 1973, Hopper was unable to eject.
A series of investigations and excavations at the crash site in Son La Province, west of Hanoi, between 1993 and 1998 led to the recovery of skeletal fragments and crew-related items that ultimately resulted in Hopper’s forensic identification, according to DOD.
DFC to World War II Airman
William S. Norred, a B-26 Marauder pilot in World War II, received a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device April 13 during a ceremony in Greenville, Ala. Lt. Gen. Allen G. Peck, Air University commander, presented the award to Norred’s widow, Doris, telling her that the ceremony represented “justice delayed, but justice done.”
The DFC recognized Norred, who died at age 91 in August 2008, for his heroism and outstanding skills during a bombing mission over the Rizzo Airdrome, Sicily, on June 15, 1943. According to his citation, the then-captain “contributed singularly” to the success of a B-26 raid when he continued to lead his formation, despite flak damage to his aircraft, to complete a “devastating” bombing run. He then outmaneuvered 12 enemy fighters that pounced upon his unescorted aircraft.
In December 2008, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records reviewed Norred’s records and corrected them by directing that he be awarded the DFC.
Global Strike Command Taking Shape
The Air Force announced April 2 that Barksdale AFB, La., is the preferred site for the permanent headquarters of Air Force Global Strike Command, the new nuclear-centric major command scheduled to commence operations at the end of September to oversee the service’s nuclear-capable bomber and ICBM forces.
Two weeks later on April 16, President Obama nominated Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz to head the new command. Klotz, who has been assistant vice chief of staff since August 2007, has extensive experience with Minuteman ICBMs and nuclear matters.
Barksdale was selected over the other finalist locations that were announced in January: F. E. Warren AFB, Wyo., Malmstrom AFB, Mont., Minot AFB, N.D., Offutt AFB, Neb., and Whiteman AFB, Mo. The Louisiana base is already home to 8th Air Force, which oversees USAF’s B-2A and B-52H nuclear-capable bombers, and the 2nd Bomb Wing, a B-52 unit.
“All six candidate locations received a thorough evaluation in accordance with our basing process,” said Kathleen I. Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations. The Air Force said the choice was primarily based on an installation’s ability to provide significant nuclear mission synergy.
The choice was not without controversy as lawmakers in Nebraska claimed that Offutt had scored higher than Barksdale and the other finalist sites in the Air Force’s evaluation. Accordingly, they pressed Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and President Obama to review the decision.
Per US law, the Air Force must still complete an assessment of the environmental impact of placing the new headquarters at Barksdale before making a final decision. That decision is expected this summer. Bolling AFB, D.C, has been hosting the provisional headquarters for Global Strike Command since January, under the command of Brig. Gen. James M. Kowalski.
Gates Throws Open CSAR Mission
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates not only canceled the Air Force’s Combat Search and Rescue Replacement Vehicle, dubbed CSAR-X, in April, he also questioned the merits of USAF’s leading role in the combat search and rescue mission.
Citing a “troubled acquisition history,” Gates announced his decision to terminate the CSAR-X program, which sought to field the successor to the elderly HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, during an April 6 Pentagon press conference on the Department of Defense’s Fiscal 2010 budget proposal.
Before Gates’ announcement, the Air Force was poised to award the CSAR-X contract, believing that it had resolved the issues that had derailed the original source selection in November 2006.
Instead, Gates said DOD would take another look at the requirements behind the program and develop a more “sustainable approach.” But he went further, saying there is a “fundamental question” of whether the CSAR mission “can only be accomplished by yet another single-service solution, with a single-purpose aircraft.”
The relook would determine whether there is a requirement for a “specialized” CSAR aircraft or whether it should be a “joint capability,” he said.
In remarks April 15 at Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala., Gates was more emphatic against CSAR-X. “Frankly, the notion of an unarmed helicopter going 250 miles by itself to rescue somebody did not seem to me to be a realistic [operational concept],” he said, adding, “What I want is a joint effort.”
Meanwhile, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said April 16 that, although CSAR-X was axed, the need for new rescue capability did not go away.
“There is no doubt in my mind—none—about the need for a vertical-lift capability which can bring Americans and our friends home from denied space,” he said during a National Aeronautic Association-sponsored event in Washington, D.C.
Proposed Split Tanker Buy Stirs Argument
Splitting the work to supply new aerial tankers between Boeing and Northrop Grumman would likely increase the Air Force’s developmental costs by “somewhere around $7 billion to $14 billion” in just over the next five years, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told reporters April 14 at Ft. Rucker, Ala., during a tour of the Army aviation center and each service’s war college.
Gates has steadfastly opposed a split buy, telling an audience on the following day at Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala., that he was laying his body “down across the tracks” in opposition to that approach. While at Rucker, he said his foreboding cost estimates should provide fuel to support a “clean competition” starting anew later this year to choose a winner from among the two aerospace giants.
Despite Gates’ pronouncements, support for the split buy remains and may even be increasing as a means to get beyond the logjam that has held up the tanker recapitalization. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), chairman of the House Armed Services air and land forces panel, for example, said April 19 he remained open to the split buy and did not understand how Gates arrived at his figures since the Boeing and Northrop Grumman tankers would be “two commercial airliners essentially.”
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel, also continues to support the split approach. Further, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, expressed a willingness to consider a split buy to speed acquisition of new tankers since there is such dire need for them, CongressDaily reported April 22.
Press reports also surfaced in April that representatives from Boeing and EADS, parent of European aircraft maker Airbus that is teamed with Northrop Grumman, would accept a split. Lawmakers from Alabama, the state in which the Northrop Grumman-EADS team would assemble its tankers, said they would also support a split program.
Operation Iraqi Freedom—Iraq
By May 11, a total of 4,287 Americans had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The total includes 4,276 troops and 11 Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 3,440 were killed in action with the enemy while 847 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 31,245 troops wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This number includes 17,494 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 13,751 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
Airmen Train Iraqis in Air-to-Ground Operations
Airmen assigned to the 521st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron at Kirkuk Regional Air Base in April began training their Iraqi Air Force counterparts in the employment of precision air-to-ground weapons on IqAF Cessna Caravan aircraft, which are now dubbed AC-208s with the addition of Hellfire surface attack missiles.
The introduction of precision air-to-ground kinetic operations is a “major milestone” for the development of the Iraqi air arm, said Brig. Gen. Robert C. Kane, commander of the Coalition Air Force Transition Team. CAFTT and the 521st AEAS are charged with training and advising the IqAF.
Iraqi Air Force Squadron 3 already flies intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance missions in their Caravans and will be the first fixed-wing asset in the reconstituted IqAF to have an air-to-ground attack capability.
The training for the squadron’s first two aircrews, comprising a pilot and sensor operator, is part of an effort to fully integrate the Iraqi air arm into combat operations, which includes counterinsurgency operations and air support for Iraqi Army troops.
Operation Enduring Freedom—Afghanistan
By May 11, a total of 678 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 677 troops and one Department of Defense civilian. Of these deaths, 454 were killed in action with the enemy while 224 died in noncombat incidents.
There have been 2,820 troops wounded in action during OEF. This number includes 996 who were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours and 1,824 who were unable to return to duty quickly.
F-16s Destroy Anti-aircraft Weapons in Helmand Province
Air Force A-10s and F-15E Strike Eagles participated in two strikes in late April that destroyed two enemy anti-aircraft weapons discovered in Helmand Province as coalition troops uncovered several insurgent groups with mounted heavy weapons.
On April 20, a pair of A-10s engaged an enemy truck armed with an anti-aircraft heavy weapon in the Lashkar Gah area of Helmand. The A-10s used their 30 mm guns to attack the truck on a strafing run, which coalition troops later reported was successful.
On the following day, F-15Es attacked an enemy truck carrying another mounted anti-aircraft gun outside Lashkar Gah, first disabling the truck in a strafing run, which prevented enemy fighters from driving it into a civilian area. The Strike Eagles then destroyed the weapon using 500-pound GBU-38 bombs.
The strikes came several days after US forces in Afghanistan warned that new intelligence indicated Taliban elements had obtained heavy anti-aircraft weaponry that could place some aircraft and helicopters in jeopardy.
Villagers in and around Lashkar Gah reported that insurgents had obtained a ZPU-1 heavy anti-aircraft machine gun and had mounted it on a truck. Other reports indicated that ZPU-2s were also being equipped on trucks.
ZPU-1s and -2s are one- and two-barrel heavy machine guns often used to attack helicopters and other vulnerable low-flying aircraft.
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