The Air Battle in the Iraq War

The air battle in the Iraq War, unlike the Gulf War, stepped off simultaneous with the ground attack. There were many reasons for this. It was felt by planners that if a long air attack were executed against Iraq, it would allow Saddam Hussein to be fully prepared for the ground campaign he would then know was coming. Tommy Franks and others in the military understood that it would certainly allow the Iraqis time to prepare any biological or chemical weapons - which it was strongly suspected the Iraqis had created.

Sketch of General Tommy Franks

Air assets were contributed by all arms of the military. But for the strategic attack, the main thrust would come from Air Force stealth bombers and Navy attack jets, coupled with the Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) of both those services. Many of the targets were chosen not simply for their potential for destruction of military capability, but also for their psychological effect. Thus, many of the Baath Party's buildings and government offices were targeted.

The United States Air Force employed an array of platforms, including the B-2 stealth bomber which could drop sixteen 2000 pound gps guided bombs. B-1 bombers could carry 24 bombs, and the B-52, which had been in service since before the Viet Nam War in the late 1950s was used to launch cruise missiles. Also used in the air assault were F-15Es and F-16s. The Marines contributed F/A-18Cs and Ds. The British flew Tornadoes and the Australians Hornets also participate in the air to ground assault. The fact was, there was virtually no air to air combat. Coalition air superiority was effectively complete.

Other assets were used in a direct ground support role. Prominent among them were the A-10 "Warthog" and the British Harrier. The Marines used Cobra helicopters as well as their own Harriers and Hornets. This support role of air units proved to be a tremendous advantage for Coalition forces on the ground. Unmanned recon aircraft were also used to help keep the coalition forces informed of Iraqi movements and also to target Iraqi units.

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