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Document created: 1 December 05
Air & Space Power Journal - Winter 2005
Lt Col Alexander M. Wathen, USAF, Retired
Col John L. Conway III, USAF, Retired
Lt Col Mike Meyer, USAF
Several questions come to mind regarding the function of the Air Force in light of certain world events. Specifically, what role does it have in Iraq today? After the success of airpower during recent wars, will the Air Force have a hard time justifying, maintaining, and/or increasing its current major force-programming levels? What can it do to help bring the current Iraqi situation to a favorable resolution sooner rather than later? Finally, can the Air Force better assist in conducting border patrols, countering the flow of terrorists from one country to another, and aiding in the war on drugs?
We used to use the term sky cops for the proud Airmen who guarded our flight lines and their precious air assets, our bases, and the front doors to the Air Force. It is time for our service to start developing a new sky-cops capability. We have all heard the saying “When the Spectre flies, all the bad guys stay home or go home in a box.” The AC-130 gunship does indeed provide the ultimate night-surveillance platform with the added capability of massive, pinpoint kinetic-weapons fire. In a scene that occurs frequently on TV cop shows, two policemen sit in an unmarked car, staking out the bad guys and eating doughnuts. In effect, that is what the Spectre can do; when the bad guys know it’s in the sky, they tend to stay home. Part of the problem in trouble spots in Iraq is that the bad guys can operate with virtual impunity unless we keep a Spectre in their area. But we simply don’t have enough AC-130s to cover all the hot spots in Iraq. The Air Force must take the capability of the gunship, flatten it out to provide greater coverage, and add monitoring and recording capability. We must also employ communications gear capable of working with the entire spectrum of operators on the ground and various command-and-control entities. The use of smaller, less expensive airframes (and more of them) should become our goal.
The role of sky cop ties in extremely well with the air portion of the common operational picture—a mosaic of individual intelligence and situational feeds pieced together to give combatant commanders and field operators greater visibility of the entire war picture. The Air Force has the responsibility of providing the majority of the feed for the air picture. Fitted with the appropriate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment, including low-light TVs, search-and-rescue materiel, and packages for cell-phone intercepts, sky cops could provide more comprehensive and persistent coverage. Developing this capability also has huge potential for eventually paying dividends in homeland defense. In addition to border patrol, we can perfect the ability to provide airport surveillance and security services against potential threats such as man-portable air defense systems.
At no other time in history has the Air Force had such a golden opportunity to test and develop this capability. That is, we have a testing ground where normal rules of society do not prevail. In Iraq, we are applying airpower in the urban environment in a manner politically inconceivable even for testing here in the United States. Furthermore, some 10,000 insurgents have volunteered themselves as live targets while the Air Force develops, tests, refines, and perfects this capability. We could and should make extensive use of Iraqi reconstruction funds to start this program.
Thus, the following recommendations seem appropriate: recognize that the Air Force can and should provide a sky-cops capability; find a low-cost solution to maintain this capability for future conflicts, homeland defense, border patrol, and current employment in Iraq; and export the capability after refining it. We must build a sky-cop facility in Iraq for combined research, development, and training. To start up that facility, we should send the brightest Army and civilian policemen; forward air controllers (FAC); combat controllers; air-to-ground fighter pilots; homeland-defense experts (including immigration and border-patrol experts from Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE]); and doctrine and training-manual developers as well as writing experts to develop doctrine on the fly. We don’t have time to wait for the perfect aircraft; instead, we must get aircraft now and then work on refining weaponry and ISR equipment by applying them in the field, making adjustments as we learn lessons. We should procure several prototypes and test each one. We must also concentrate on several key capabilities such as city, border, and pipeline patrol as well as protection of high-value assets (e.g., oil refineries), recommending that missions be tasked with the sector FAC mentality employed during Vietnam. In other words, we want the same plane and crew operating in the same area—day after day and night after night.
Since Iraqis must become an integral part of the training program, we should adopt a “leave behind” mentality to initial purchases of all aircraft used in direct support of this program and operated in Iraq. Those aircraft would eventually become part of the Iraqi air force inventory. Potential airframes might include a “modular gunship” or mini Spectre (a perfect opportunity for Air Force Special Operations Command/Plans and Programs to jump-start such a program), the OV-10D or a current rendition of it, and a gunship version of the C-23 Sherpa. A member of the Iraqi air force must always be in each aircraft that flies. Specifically, we must assure that the Iraqi sensor operator or weapons-fire officer on board comes from the same area of the country and from the same religious sect as the majority present in the location where we conduct operations. Besides the obvious advantages of knowing the terrain, locales, and so forth, this will help mitigate Shia-on-Sunni (or Kurd-on-Sunni, etc.) blood feuds and the inherent targeting biases that come from pitting sect on sect. After perfecting the program, the Air Force, ICE, and Department of Homeland Security can then step in with programming requests.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University
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