The Navy is slowly getting a grip on the new tactics and techniques needed to wage an air war hundreds of miles from its carriers.
@ The biggest problem (target identification) got worse when the Taliban forces collapsed and began their retreat to the south; the stalemated battle lines of the first six weeks made it easier to keep track of who was where. During the fluid period of ground movement, many Navy jets returned to their carriers with their bombs on board as they could not positively identify targets. The Navy had come to rely on Army Special Forces teams on the ground, and those teams were unable to keep up with the fast fleeing Taliban forces.
@ Navy planes have been able to hit caves when these have been detected by various means. The problem is that until someone on the ground actually walks up to this type of target, no one is too sure what effect the bombs are having.
@ While Navy aircraft are flying about 100 missions per day, each of them lasts more than six hours compared to the normal two-hour missions. This is setting records for flight hours, but with fewer landings and takeoffs, there is less wear and tear on the aircraft. The E-2C Hawkeye radar planes are not needed to watch for enemy aircraft and are, instead, being used to
manage the air traffic flow to and from the carriers. (Control over the battlefields is usually handled by Air Force E-3s.)
@ The carrier Vinson alone has delivered more than a million pounds of bombs. Many strikes use the smaller 500-pound bombs to limit collateral damage, but in some cases larger bombs and air bursts are used to increase the area hit. Many pilots have noted that "dumb bombs" (without guidance packages) are easier to use on fast-emerging targets as they do not require tedious GPS targeting or the use of laser designators.
@ Navy pilots continue to praise the British tanker crews who, they say, are more willing to take risks and break rules than US Air Force tankers. --Stephen V Cole