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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Boots on the ground?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I've been all eyes and ears this week watching the action in Libya. It is obvious that our airpower coalition is winning the air war. Well the original term for the action was establishing a "No Fly Zone" but I see something more. For sure the Libyan Air Force, whatever that amounted to, has been put out of action. They have only flown one sortie since the No Fly Zone was established and that in a trainer which was promptly shot down. All the news sources available to me made no mention of any helicopter sorties flown by the Libyans. That too seems strange because a helicopter gunship is a potent weapon but maybe they never had any.

What I have been seeing is a series of Libyan Army tanks of Russian manufacture burning or destroyed. Destroying tanks with a no fly zone, hmm, tanks don't fly so obviously something more is happening. It looks to me that the coalition is conducting tactical air warfare. If it belongs to the enemy and it moves or shoots -- destroy it. That is what is happening and that goes way beyond just establishing a no fly zone.

Now understand that I was a tanker pilot most of my career and never got close to any air to air or air to ground combat action. However we tanker guys, after refueling our fighters over Laos, listened in on the communications between our fighter pilots flying on to their targets in North Vietnam. Those targets by the way were all chosen at the White House and were designed to "send a message" to the North Vietnamese leadership. One of my friends got in bad trouble up north when in his F-105 he bombed a little too close to Uncle Ho's residence! Shame he missed!

Back over Laos though we tanker guys noted with sadness when the number of fighters coming back out and getting a little gas on their way back to base didn't always equal the number that went north earlier. Any further understanding of modern airpower I have gained through reading and listening to radio and TV, no classified or official channel sources needed. So what follows is mostly conjecture on my part.

Once the action started the coalition only took a few hours to gain air domination of the entirety of Libya. That action included taking out all of Khadafy's ability to track aircraft or centrally control any of his fixed ground to air defenses -- we call them SAM's for surface to air missiles.

What remained were the really tough targets to take out from the air, those that move, tanks, trucks and mobile antiaircraft artillery. In many cases those targets are doubly tough because they are hidden in populated areas and collateral damage is a real no-no. Collateral really means hurting or killing nearby civilians, in these politically correct times to be avoided at all costs. At all costs!

The way the system works now is all targets are chosen and authorized by a central command authority located somewhere in the area. To achieve the precision required to prevent collateral damage it is necessary to have a support team on the ground that directs the airborne ordinance to the correct target. The ground controller is called a JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) and is an Air Force member, usually enlisted. The JTAC carries a satellite receiver, equipment to designate targets and communications equipment to coordinate with pilots overhead that deliver the precision guided ordinance.

The JTAC doesn't go out alone but he is part of a team drawn from elite Army Special Forces, Marines, and/or Navy Seals and usually includes a qualified medic. In the Libyan environment I'd imagine that the team is also accompanied by Libyans that are not loyal to Khadafy who know the territory, know the location of the Libyan assets and are able to keep the Tactical Air Control party hidden from or at least invisible to Khadafy's loyalists.

I'm intrigued with our administration's use of the term "kinetic military action" because when we are killing the enemy's tanks, trucks, troops and other military assets it seems like it is an act of war to me. Actually the military uses the term "kinetic" for projectiles such as bullets that do not contain an explosive charge. We even have been known to use concrete filled precision guided bombs dropped from an aircraft on a tank parked beside an apartment house in a densely populated city. The bomb obviously doesn't explode when it hits but pure kinetic energy puts the tank out of action with little collateral damage to the building just beside it.

Earlier in the action the press reported on an F-15E that had gone down in Libya due to "mechanical problems." I speculate that perhaps we misjudged a little and the F-15E went down due to enemy action. Anti-aircraft fire with bullets going into an engine will cause "mechanical problems" but the press was careful to avoid any reference to the aircraft being shot down. Whatever caused the failure our pilot and his fellow back seat crewman were quickly rescued after parachuting from their disabled airplane. Little noted also was the fact that the crew members were picked by a Marine V-22 Osprey rescue aircraft. Due to the swiftness of the rescue that V-22 had to have already been on the scene and those don't deploy alone.

My point is that watching news releases we are led to believe that the only personnel in danger while supporting the "kinetic military action" in Libya are the aircrew members flying fighters, ours and those of the NATO coalition. Any person aware of how modern air warfare is conducted also knows that there are a number of brave personnel on the ground supporting the air operations. Yet our administration denies that we have any "American boots" on the ground. My fear is that if any of those essential personnel that are in fact on the ground get in trouble, likely to happen, our politicians will deny that they were authorized to be there in the first place. The Marine motto is that "we leave no one behind" so I have faith that our military will somehow rescue our own.

I fear military careers will be sacrificed just to do what is right in spite of politicians covering their own behinds. However just this evening I watched President Obama finally take responsibility for the military intervention in Libya so hopefully my fears won't come to fruition.

That is the way I saw it.

Dick Trail


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You address many of the questions that popped into my head. I heard, on the Forums, that we did have boots on the ground, but they were supposedly only people to organize, and train (Sort of like Nam was, at the beginning).

I never thought I would see the day that USA would decide to interfere with another country by knocking out the existing governments military, so the guys with the sling-shots can have a chance. (I emote a tad about the sling-shots).

If we help the rebellion, they hate us, and if we don't help the rebellion, they hate us. Either way, they still want to kill us. So, what changes?

Nuff said. Good article, Dick.

-- Posted by Navyblue on Tue, Mar 29, 2011, at 5:39 PM


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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It