2014-09-24 The first use of the F-22 in combat has garnished a fair share of attention.
But the F-22 is part of an integrated air operation and only the anomalies of a politically motivated Secretary of Defense kept it on the sidelines in Operation Odyssey Dawn.
Enter a new Sec Def without the anomalies of trying to make political points about a core combat asset, and the F-22 can enter the battlespace.
The broader point is simply that the F-22 is a key element in providing overall force protection for the air combat fleet.
The use of airpower in an unfriendly nation’s airspace will always enhance the threats to the operational force, and in the case of Syria, the presence of SAMs and other air systems provides enough of a threat that ensuring the safety of the overall operational fleet is important.
If you have declared a “red line” against the head of state of a country, presumably when you decide to operate in that state’s airspace you can not count on the automatic acquiescence of the redlined state!
One should note that the Air Combat Command has focused on air operational integration, within which the F-22 is a key element which means that the inclusion of the F-22 would be the norm, not an anomaly.
Again, no surprise, but the operational force working to attenuate the ISIS threat and presence in the region includes the F-22.
Not only the question of force protection, but with the ability to use the latest variants of the small diameter bomb, precision targeting on the fly is a reality fr the F-22 as well.
As Lt. General (Retired) Deptula commented in a Breaking Defense piece about the appearance of the F-22 in the Iraqi and Syrian air operations:
“Effective planning requires the use of the right force at the right place at the right time,” Dave Deptula, the man who ran the air war in Afghanistan, says in an email.
“The F-22 is the world’s most advanced combat aircraft and has the ability to negate the effectiveness of threat air defense systems.
That’s why it was used in this case.
There was no ‘dry spell’; rather, the previous operations in the permissive airspace of Iraq and Afghanistan did not require their capabilities.”
In an interview with ABC news Australia, Lt. General (Retired) Deptula provided an overview on how to look at the overall air campaign in Iraq and Syria.
Deptula emphasized the importance of a comprehensive approach which was focused on a multi-faceted effort to destroy ISIS targets and to significantly attrite their ability to operate.
STEVE CANNANE: What kind of air operation is required to destroy Islamic State’s capability in Iraq and Syria?
DAVID DEPTULA: Well, it’s an excellent question, but the answer shouldn’t just be focused on air power alone.
For the use of force to be effective, it has to be part of a cohesive, comprehensive and realistic strategy and campaign.
So, this is a long way of answering your question, but instead of just focusing on one type of medium for the application of force, we need to understand that it’s all about using the right force at the right place at the right time. Now, with that preface, I would tell you that air power is in fact the coalition’s asymmetric advantage in this particular case.
And it will be exceedingly effective in accomplishing the strategic objectives.
What we don’t want to do is get into a situation where coalition forces introduce large numbers of boots on the ground, because in fact, that’s what ISIL exactly wants us to do.
They’ve stated, right up front, in many instances, that they believe that the coalition use of air power is cowardly and that real men fight on the ground.
Well of course that’s exactly what they want to say and they want to goad us into doing because they understand that a critical coalition vulnerability are casualties and they’d like to have the opportunity to induce those casualties.
They can’t be effective against air power.
And so those are a couple of considerations right up front.
STEVE CANNANE: OK. So, they can’t be – necessarily take on the air power of the US and the coalition, but what if the boots do go on the ground?
Is that a likely scenario, because we’ve heard Tony Blair say that he doesn’t think that ISIS can be defeated without a ground offensive of some sort?
DAVID DEPTULA: Well, again, all the elements of power need to be involved.
The question is: in what amount, in what sequence and for what purpose?
And by the way, don’t forget, this cohesive, comprehensive strategy that I’m talking about, and that the President has laid out, involves not just the military use of force, but all elements of power – the economic peace, the diplomatic peace and the informational peace.
So, what air power brings to the equation right up front is the ability to project power vice vulnerability.
And this operation needs to start with 24/7 oversight and then the use of air power to prevent and halt the movement, number one, of ISIL – these would be the operational objective of the campaign – number two to paralyze ISIL leadership and command and control, and then number three, begin to render ISIL ineffective.
Now if those are your three operational objectives to support the strategic outcome, one can see that there will be varied amounts of air and surface forces involved.
But principally upfront, you’re going to use – and you need to use, if you’re going to be effective – large amounts of air operations.
And to be effective, we need to apply air power like a thunderstorm, not a drizzle.
You know, so far we’ve applied four or five strike sorties a day. Let me remind you that the first day of Desert Storm, there were over 2,500 sorties executed.
So, I’m not calling for that kind of an amount of force, but we have to stop applying the tenets of how we used force in the last conflict in today’s conflict.
And ISIL can be paralyzed from the air rapidly. That doesn’t mean that special operations forces, intelligence from the ground isn’t useful, because it clearly is.
But it’s not a matter of either-or, it’s a matter of optimizing air and surface forces in conjunction with one another to achieve the overall objectives.
STEVE CANNANE: So whose surface forces will be used? Because on the weekend President Obama once again repeated his promise that no US ground troops would be deployed against ISIS.
DAVID DEPTULA: Well, again, I would suggest to you that you – one always wants to induce the greatest amount of uncertainty into an adversary’s mindset.
So, I would not recommend someone telegraph what kind of forces will or will not be used.
But leaving aside the political implications here, one has to recognize that it’s the indigenous forces on the ground who are directly affected, it’s the indigenous personnel on the ground in the area that are affected, that need to take ownership of ground force operations.
And that doesn’t mean that the coalition shouldn’t take effective measures to train them and to assist them and to help them.
But the brunt of the activity to recapture towns and villages needs to be done with indigenous forces. Not unlike what we did in Afghanistan.
People forget the first three months of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, by introducing the use of ground – or air power in conjunction with indigenous forces – at the time, the Northern Alliance – allowed us to remove the Taliban regime from power, assure the conditions where a government friendly to the coalition could come into place and we destroyed the al-Qaeda terrorist training camps.
We did that by 31st December, 2001.
STEVE CANNANE: Now that policy may work …
DAVID DEPTULA: Where we got into trouble was by introducing large numbers of boots on the ground in an attempt to do nation-building and to try to change a collection of 16th Century tribes into a modern Jeffersonian democracy.
That’s not what we want to do….
The key to a successful operation against ISIS forces on the ground is to do so without laying down a land grid which could become its own target for ISIS.
In other words, keep ISIS as the target, and not make the US and allied forces a target on the ground within reach of ISIS forces, capabilities and approaches, and giving them a chance to capture US or allied soldiers and make them pawns in an information warfare effort.
But another key development in the operations against ISIS has been the engagement of Arab Air Forces.
GCC states have been investing and upgrading their air combat capabilities for some time, and with the addition of advanced fighters, weapons and tankers, certainly they make a significant contribution to any joint effort to provide precision strike against ISIS fighters on the ground.
This may have been the first use of the A330MRTT tanker in combat as well, given its prevalence in the GCC states as the tanker of choice, but that will have to be confirmed.
The potential for Arab states which are participating in the operation was laid out in The Daily Telegraph in an article published September 23, 2014 and the discussion of the UAE highlights as well that the UAE already has participated in a coalition air strike, namely in what the US calls Odyssey Dawn:
The UAE has 201 combat aircraft organized into three squadrons of US-supplied F-16s and three of French Mirages. Last month, the country showed its ability to carry out air strikes when the UAE bombed Islamist militias in Libya’s capital, Tripoli. In 2011, the UAE also joined Britain and France in the campaign that toppled Col Gaddafi’s regime.
But the UAE shares the traditional Arab reluctance to join Western-led military offensives. Whether its air force is carrying out combat sorties in Syria is unclear. If not, the UAE’s role may be confined to opening its air space and allowing the US to use al-Minhad military air base near Dubai.
And the UAE foreign ministry has clearly confirmed the use of their combat aircraft in the strikes against ISIS:
The United Arab Emirates air force took part in US-led air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria overnight, the country’s official WAM news agency reported.
The operation took place “in coordination with participating forces in the international efforts against Da’esh”, the foreign ministry said in a statement, using a widely-used term for Islamic State militants.
And a story in the UAE based The National noted that:
Of the five Arab countries involved in the operation, the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan said their jets carried out strikes.
“A formation of Bahrain royal air force aircraft, joining brotherly air forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council and other friendly and allied forces … bombed and destroyed several positions and selected targets belonging to terrorist organizations,” a Bahraini defense official said.
A Jordanian government official said its air force took part, and accused ISIL of trying to infiltrate Jordan through its border with Syria.
Editor’s Note: It is likely that the F-22s delivered SDBs against targets as well in Syria. The USAF has been working and exercising this capability for some time.
On the F-22 and SDBs see the following piece published on 8/6/12 by Tech. Sgt. Dana Rosso, 477th Fighter Group Public Affairs:
During a Combat Hammer exercise Alaska F-22 Raptors became the first operational F-22 unit to drop GBU-39 small diameter bombs.
Although small diameter bombs have been employed by test pilots, Combat Hammer, a weapons system evaluation program sponsored by the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, provided an opportunity for an operational unit to employ them in a realistic tactical training environment.
“The Utah Test and Training Range is the only location in the United States where the F-22s can employ SDBs at speeds and altitudes unique to the Raptor,” said Maj. Wade Bridges, a Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron.
The 3rd Wing F-22s that have the upgraded increment 3.1 software were able to drop the GBU-39 SDB. The GBU-39 SDB is a 250 pound precision-guided glide bomb that is intended to provide aircraft with the ability to carry a higher number of bombs and to employ with greater stand-off.
“The employment of the GBU-39s was very successful,” said Bridges. “The ammo and weapons personnel that built and loaded the weapons did so with amazing professionalism and technical expertise. They were evaluated during the entire process and received nothing but praise for their work. The pilots who employed the weapons did an excellent job delivering the weapons in a tactical environment. The entire process from building to employing the weapons was a tremendous success resulting in 100% of the SDBs being released successfully.”
This training event allowed for Total Force Integration across the F-22 fleet. The 302nd Fighter Squadron led a Total Force team from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. Pilots from both the 302nd and the 525th Fighter Squadrons and maintainers from the 3rd Maintenance Group and the 477th Fighter Group filled the deployment roster making it a true total force effort from Alaska.
In addition to the Alaska based effort, pilots from the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons and their associated maintainers participated in this Combat Hammer. This was the first time operations and maintenance personnel from the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons stationed in Hawaii have deployed.
“The successful deployment experience and delivery of air-to-ground weapons is a major milestone for the Hawaiian Raptor operations and maintenance team towards declaration of Initial Operational Capability,” said Lt. Col. Robert Jackson, 19th FS commander.
This video was posted in 2007.