Against an enemy hell-bent on the destruction of the United States and her western allies, one might think the number of sorties flown by our guys and gals employing ordnance downrange would be a pretty impressive number. For example, the number of sorties flown in the forty-three days of Operation Desert Storm averaged over 1,100 per day. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, that number was in the neighborhood of 800 per day. During Operation Allied Force over Serbia and Kosovo, the number was significantly less, though nothing to sneeze at with 138 missions flown.
So how about the ongoing air campaign against ISIS? Any guesses?
Yes, you read that correctly. Barely more than a dozen airstrikes on any given day. To make matters even worse, according to U.S. Senator John McCain, 75% of pilots are returning to their deployed locations with a full load of ordnance. So to break that down again, if there are an average of 14 offensive sorties per day, roughly ten of them involve aircraft returning to base without firing a single shot.
“There were times I had groups of ISIS fighters in my sights, but I couldn’t get clearance to engage,” a U.S. Navy F/A-18 pilot told Fox News. “They probably killed innocent people and spread evil because of my inability to kill them. It was frustrating.”
Words coming back from the community downrange indicate the amount of time between positively identifying a hostile target and being given release authority from the Combined Air Operations Center is about an hour. As you might imagine, variables in combat operations can change in a matter of seconds.
So while it is true the fight against ISIS is a very complex endeavor as it applies to target discrimination, you can’t help but shake your head at the notion our pilots are orbiting armed combatants, watching them escape altogether or blend into crowds of unarmed civilians or go into buildings declared off-limits.
“As our leaders have said, this is a long-term fight, and we will not alienate civilians, the Iraqi government or our coalition partners by striking targets indiscriminately,” a spokesman from U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT).
As a result, leadership has handed down Rules Of Engagement (ROE) that some say are too restrictive. While we can appreciate the concern for collateral damage and harming non-combatants, pilots are simply fed up with having their hands tied.
“We are not taking the fight to these guys,” said one A-10 pilot. “We haven’t targeted their centers of gravity in Raqqa. All the roads between Syria and Iraq are still intact with trucks flowing freely.”
“These are excessive procedures that are handing our adversary an advantage,” said retired Lieutenant General David Deptula, a respected weapons officer and senior leader who is also a former director of the CAOC in Afghanistan. “We have been applying airpower like a rain shower or drizzle–for it to be effective, it needs to be applied like a thunderstorm.”
That is well said, General.
(Featured photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Russ Scalf)