It won’t be easy to strike all ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq. But the U.S. has already amassed several “useful” weapons systems in the region.
Last year, when the U.S. (and France) seemed to be about to launch air strikes on Syria and its chemical weapons, we explained that the air campaign would probably be a limited air war, opened by the usual rain of cruise missiles shot by warships, submarines and bombers with little to no involvement of the so-called “tacair”, the tactical airplanes.
13 months later, the scenario has changed a bit.
Several F-15E Strike Eagles and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets carrying their PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), are already flying over Iraq hitting ISIS targets five times a day, and they prepare to expand their mission to attack terrorist targets located in Syria.
Whilst last year there was no sign of imminent deployment of F-15s, F-16s or F-18s squadrons to airfields across the region, several warplanes, along with support assets (including tankers and ISR – Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance – platforms) are not only in place, but they are also flying daily missions over Iraq since July.
Since U.S. planes are already freely flying inside Iraqi airspace, it is quite likely they will continue to do so to perform surgical attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq. The aircraft are deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar, and Al Dhafra, UAE, but they could also count of Jordan airbases, some of which already host some U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets and Air Force F-16s.
On the other side, Syrian targets will be more difficult to hit: unless Washington will be allowed to use Syria’s airspace any incursion could theoretically require plenty of Electronic Warfare cover and SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) support to make Syrian Air Defense harmless. In other words, the unathorized use of Damascus airspace would not be cost-effective along with causing diplomatic issues, as it would require the U.S. to fight a war against Syria (by blinding or destroying Syrian radars and SAM – Surface to Air Missile – batteries) and against ISIS in Syria. And don’t forget that some Syrian Arab Air Air Force planes are fighting their war against local rebels and this raises two issues: deconfliction with SyAAF planes and the risk of being shot down by MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) or other Anti-Aircraft weaponry in the hands of the Free Syrian Army.
A more clandestine approach is probably ahead, with a war made of drone strikes, stand-off weapons, and some limited stealth air strikes.
Dealing with drones, as said, they are already operating in Iraq, hence, they could extend their current mission to perform Strike Coordination And Reconnaissance missions in or close to Syria from Incirlik, in Turkey, that has been used as a drone forward operating base, for several years.
Cruise missiles could be fired U.S. destroyers theoretically capable to launch up to 90 Tomahawks Tactical Cruise Missiles as the USS Cole, currently in the Sixth fleet area of operations.
Some more cruise missiles could be fired by U.S. strategic bombers that would perform some global reach, round trip missions from the US (as well as from Diego Garcia): for sure, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers‘ r/t sorties from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to be followed by some more B-1 air strikes as done during the Libya Air War in 2011, and possibly B-52 ones.
High flying U-2 Dragon Lady aircraft and Global Hawk drones flying from Incirlik, Sigonella or Al Dhafra are already getting the required imagery and will perform the post-strike BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) should the need arise.
These could be the latest version of the rarely seen before Gorgon Stare (formerly known as the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System – WAAS), a pod-based sensor package used to track people, vehicles, and objects in areas of +10 square kilometers.
The ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) pod is integrated in a networked imagery distribution system to provide hi-resolution, real-time full motion video of activities of interest.
Usually, a Gorgon Stare system is made of two pods, one carrying networking and communications equipment, the other with Visible/IR Camera Arrays and Image Processing module: interestingly, the MQ-9 shown in the picture carries two seemingly identical pods (with EO/IR turrets).
This is how the cockpit of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft looks like at night
The image in this post was taken as Capt. Erica Stooksbury, C-17 pilot with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, adjusted the cockpit lighting controls in a Globemaster III aircraft over Iraq Aug. 30, 2014.
According to the U.S. Air Force, two C-17s dropped 79 container delivery system bundles of fresh drinking water, or 7,513 gallons whereas two C-130 Hercules aircraft dropped 30 bundles, which contained 3,032 gallons of fresh drinking water and 7,056 meals, ready to eat.
The following video, brought to our attention on Twitter by user @greenlemon, was filmed on Sept. 7, over Rawat, Al-Anbar, in eastern Iraq.
Although it is a low quality footage, it seems to show an F-15, most probably, based on color and shape, an F-15E Strike Eagle attack plane.
The presence of F-15E in the area, confirmed since the beginning of the air campaign against ISIS, is far from being surprising. What makes the video worth of note is the fact that it is the first one to show the Strike Eagles from the ground, as they fly over Iraq.
According to our sources, some F-15Es belonging to 48FW from RAF Lakenheath are currently deployed to Al Udeid, in Qatar.
A Socata TBM-700 flown by a non-responsibe pilot crashed 14 miles off Jamaica, while enroute to Naples, Florida. Several U.S. Air Force plane took part in the escort mission.
On Sept. 5, a Socata TBM-700, N900KN, departed at 08.26LT from Rochester, New York, end en route to Naples, Florida, whose pilot had become unresponsive, crashed 14 miles off the coast of Jamaica, after running out of fuel.
The pilot had requested the Air Traffic Control to descend to a lower altitude because of a problem but became unresponsive as the TBM-700 was flying at FL250.
Military Radio Comms Expert Allan Stern monitored most of the flights involved in the escort of the unresponsive private plane and his logs helped us to draw a more detailed picture of the U.S. Air Force’s response to the emergency.
Image credit: U.S. Air Force
At 10.00 NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) scrambled two F-16s out of McEntire ANGB, South Carolina, callsign “Stalk 52″. The two “Vipers” escorted the TBM-700 until they were reached by a flight of two F-15s, belonging to the Florida Air National Guard, out of Jacksonville, Florida, radio callsign “Lucky 01″.
The fighter planes were heard on frequency 141.625 talking one another about the TBM plane flown by a non-responsive pilot who was slumped forward.
Both tried to contact the pilot on VHF Emergency “Guard” frequency 121.5 MHz.
The interceptors were supported by “Gasman 02″, an Alabama ANG KC-135R, 58-0106, out of Birmingham AL, under control of NORAD’s Huntress on UHF frequency 260.9.
As the TBM-700 continued to fly southbound, they switched to Miami Control at Palm Beach, on frequency 270.325.
Later on, Stern heard “Stalk 52″ as it was RTB (returning to base) to McEntire, telling NORAD’s Huntress on 228.9, that he was able to see the pilot slumped over, but that the pilot began to breath when the plane descended to lower altitude, indicating that he had been oxygen starved.
The two F-15s shadowed the unresponsive plane until it entered the Cuban airspace. The TBM-700, overflew Cuba and started to lose altitude approaching Jamaica. It crashed about 14 miles off the coast of Port Antonio, Jamaica at about 2:15 p.m. EDT.