ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. military commanders in Iraq kicked off a new, 24-hour close air support campaign over Baghdad on Saturday, “racking and stacking” fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft whose job is to provide cover for ground troops now fighting their way into the heart of the city.
“It’s a wonderful, effective plan that provides airborne forward air controllers over the city 24 hours a day, and multiple sets of fighters with multiple munitions options stacked up 24 hours a day, to be able to respond to the land component requirements inside the city if we have to,” said Lt. Gen. T. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, coalition forces air component commander for the Iraq battle.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters Saturday by telephone from his headquarters in Saudi Arabia, Moseley said the aircraft include a mix of Navy, Marine and Air Force aircraft, including A-10s, F-15s, F-16s, F-14s and F-18s.
“They are up there right now,” Moseley said, flying at a variety of altitudes over Baghdad.
The plan calls for aircraft in the lower layers to peel off and head back to base once they have expended their ordnance or if they run out of gas. Aircraft positioned higher in the “stack” then drop down to the “ready” layer, where they are then next in line for whatever combat mission may arise.
Other planes act as airborne forward air controllers, or “FACs,” spotting targets and relaying their locations to the fighters, who are armed with a variety of munitions that range from precision-guided munitions of various sizes to inert, or “dumb” bombs.
The different bomb loads allow commanders to make on-the-fly decisions about which munitions will create the least amount of death and destruction to civilian infrastructure, Moseley said.
“The trick, if you have to do this [close air support in a city], is to use the smallest munitions possible,” Moseley said. “My objective is to create as little collateral damage as I have to inside Baghdad.”
Navy, Air Force and Marine fliers have been rehearsing the urban close air support plan “for a year now,” but this is the first time it’s ever been put into action, Moseley said.
In addition to the manned aircraft, Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles are making their own constant surveillance circles above the capital city, Moseley said. Unlike the fighters and FACs, which just began their nonstop orbits, the UAVs have been monitoring the city nonstop for several days now, he said.