Leadership: USAF has the IED Blues


June 28, 2007: The U.S. Air Force is trying to get the army to stop using Predator UAVs and F-16 fighters to look for roadside bombs (IEDs, or improvised explosive devices). Recently, air force generals pointed out that the number of IEDs spotted by Predators, or F-16 targeting pods was very low. The army has been having much more success with specialized photo-recon aircraft (that take pictures of the exact same area, a few hours later, so that any recent digging or bomb placing will be obvious.)

The air force wants to reduce the amount of time its aircraft are in the air, as even a Predator costs several thousand dollars an hour to fly. That said, the fighter pilots like to get involved, and help out. But rather than patrol roads looking for IEDS, the fighter jocks prefer to be there when there's a battle going on, or bad guys are known to be out and about. For that, the fighter pilots will even come in low and use their 20mm cannon against ground targets.

The air force has not had a lot to do in Iraq or Afghanistan. Smart bombs have greatly reduced the workload for bombers and fighters. The army now has MLRS rockets with the same guidance systems used by smart bombs, and prefer to use them in many cases because the rocket warhead is smaller and causes less collateral damage than a 500 pound smart bomb. There is still work for the fighters and Predators, but it is intermittent, and the air force would rather not fill the down time with IED patrols that rarely spot anything.




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