Strafing is undergoing something of a renaissance, thanks to new, and
much more effective, fire control systems for F-16 and F-15 fighters, and more
training in this form of close air support (CAS). The new F-35 will have
similar capabilities. Some F-22 pilots insist they can do it as well, but their
bosses are reluctant to even think of risk these very expensive fighters that
close to ground fire.
The new fire control hardware and software, enable
a fighter pilot to deliver 20mm cannon fire through the window of a building.
This is one way to take out a sniper, without using a smart bomb that could
cause a lot of nearby civilians to get hurt. Part of the magic is GPS and
targeting pods with x30 magnification. This allows the pilot to be far away
while getting a bead on the target. Then the pilot can come in low and fast,
fire off a few dozen shells, and be gone before the enemy can get off many, or
any, shots at him. In the last six years, more pilots have received strafing
training, often using a simulator. This is safer, because strafing in a fast
mover (F-16 or F-15) is inherently dangerous. The 20mm cannon only has a
maximum range (for aimed fire) of about 700 meters. The 20mm cannon fires
50-100 rounds a second. On a strafing run, the F-16 is moving at about 150
meters a second, a hundred or so meters above the ground. It's a tricky business.
Some F-15 pilots believed that these kinds of
strafing runs could be carried out at night. Their commanders were not so sure,
so the F-15 pilots used an F-15 flight simulator to practice the technique, and
convinced their boss that it would work.
The biggest danger in this low level gunnery is the
risk of accidentally hitting the ground, or a building. One F-16 has already
been lost to this kind of accident. All it takes is for a pilot to jerk the
aircraft in the wrong direction for a second or two, and it's all over. But
with nothing to fight in the air, most fighter pilots are eager to come down on
the deck to deliver some firepower. Although the A-10 was built for this kind
of mission, and does a lot of the
strafing, there are times when an A10 is not available, and an F-16, F-18 or