Happy Monday, FighterSweep Fans! It was a pretty busy weekend, so we’d like to catch you up on some of the latest coming out of Syria and the Rules Of Engagement (ROE) for U.S. pilots.

This past Saturday, the U.S struck an additional 283 oil trucks in the eastern part of Syria. That report comes on the heels of Russia’s claim of “torching” more than a thousand fuel trucks in the last five days–a number disputed by the U.S. RT reports on the same day as the U.S. strikes, Russian warplanes attacked 472 individual targets.

A Department of Defense official said such a number would be “nearly impossible,” given Russia’s use of predominantly unguided munitions in their attacks. Substantiating the claim would require diverting coalition assets from their normal scope of operations, a non-start given the U.S. and Russia are not attacking the same targets in the same areas.

AC-130U Spooky Gunship of the 4th Special Opeartions Squadron Hurlburt Field Fl., flies over surrounding areas for local area training proficiency. (U.S. Air Force photo)
AC-130U Spooky Gunship of the 4th Special Opeartions Squadron Hurlburt Field, Florida, flies over surrounding areas for local area training proficiency. (U.S. Air Force photo)

So as previously noted, attacking Daesh’s oil-smuggling infrastructure is a significant step outside the container for the U.S. since Inherent Resolve began more than a year ago. The ability of the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) to maximize the effectiveness of all the combat airpower at his disposal has been severely hampered thus far. The word from the pilots downrange…still…is they RTB with undropped ordnance more often than not.

Translation? Not a darn thing has changed on that front in the last six months. Even when legitimate Daesh targets are in view and within the performance envelope of both precision-guided munitions and the aircrews employing them, clearance to drop is denied. According to U.S. House Representative Ed Royce of California, the current administration has blocked seventy-five percent of air strikes against Daesh.

Retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane, now a defense analyst, has said President Obama’s instructions to the Department of Defense were very clear: “I want no civilian casualties. Zero.”

As any historian who studies the history of warfare will attest, major combat operations on this scale are not possible without incurring both collateral damage and civilian casualties. It just doesn’t work that way. The United States has, arguably, the most accurate PGMs in the game, and the best combat aviators on the planet. As good as we are, bad things sometimes happen.

A Pentagon official explained it like this: “Despite U.S. strikes being the most precise in the history of warfare, conducting strike operations in the heavily-populated areas where ISIL hides certainly presents challenges. We are fighting an enemy who goes out of their way to put civilians at risk. However, our pilots understand the need for the tactical patience in this environment. This fight against ISIL is not the kind of fight from previous decades.”

Photo Courtesy of AP/Reuters
Photo Courtesy of AP/Reuters

Even so, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said, “We’re prepared to change the rules of engagement. We’ve changed tactics, as we just did in the case of the fuel trucks.”

Amending the ROE is something warfighters have wanted to see for months. Retired Air Force General David Deptula, the Air Force Weapons Officer who oversaw the planning of Operation Desert Storm, asked another valid question: “What is the logic of a policy that restricts the application of air power to prevent the potential of collateral damage, while assuring the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity?”

Daesh has effectively used our own ROE against us since the outset. While aircraft are returning to their deployed locations with unused munitions, Daesh has slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands of non-combatants and laid waste of all types of structures and historical artifacts. The collateral damage and civilian casualties are staggering, regardless of the U.S. pilots’ inability to drop weapons on legitimate targets.

And to complicate matters even more, the presence of the Russian Air Force in the skies over Syria has also changed the game. How exactly? We reached out to AFCENT and asked that very question.

A Sukhoi Su-30SM of the Russian Air Force taxis at its deployed location in Syria. (Photo courtesy of RT)
A Sukhoi Su-30SM of the Russian Air Force taxis at its deployed location in Syria. (Photo courtesy of RT)

“Russian aircraft maintain a presence in the shared air space.  And while there have been a few instances where they’ve come near U.S. aircraft, their presence has not hindered our intent to continue Coalition strikes against Daesh targets in Syria,” says Major Tim Smith, AFCENT Public Affairs. ” They have not demonstrated any hostile intent. And while our pilots are focused solely on the mission to defeat Daesh, they are fully aware and need to maintain focus on the fact that there are other aircraft out there.  Our pilots pay close attention to that. That being said, the impact to operations has been very minimal and it’s only based on safety of flight.”

On 20 October, senior officials from the Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense signed a memorandum of understanding to minimize the risk of “incidents” among Coalition and Russian aircraft operating in Syrian airspace. The MOU went into immediate effect and includes protocols for aircrews to follow–maintaining professional airmanship, using specific radio frequencies, and establishing direct comms between both two sides on the ground in efforts to “deconflict.”

Just what any fighter pilot needs: more SPecial INStructions (SPINS) contributing to an already daunting level of task saturation. Until the gloves come off, as we’ve seen with France and Russia recently, and our boys and girls are finally allowed to repond decisively, the Islamic State will continue its reign of terror. We can’t afford to wait, and yet the term “strategic patience”–whatever that means, is the order of the day.

(Featured photo courtesy of RT.com)