KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — The Iraqi air force has been noticeably quiet in the war against coalition forces, and a spokesman for the Royal Air Force said he does not know if that is part of an overall strategy or simply fear of coalition air superiority.
RAF Group Capt. Jon Fynes said the coalition is nearing the point where British pilots are planning to take a break from flying.
“In the next few days, we will have a day off to recoup,” Fynes, the spokesman for the RAF, said Monday in a news briefing. “We’re not tired. We are focused and working hard.”
He said the British forces brought twice as many personnel as they needed for their roughly 100 fixed-wing aircraft and 27 helicopters.
The result has been a well-rested force that can react quickly to unexpected targets. On Monday morning, coalition officials spotted a newly developing target and got pilots into the air literally 70 minutes after they had been wakened, Fynes said.
In 12 days, RAF planes have flown about 1,200 sorties, between 10 percent and 12 percent of all coalition sorties, he said.
U.S. Air Force officials were not available to provide the same information about their aircraft Monday.
Fynes said his pilots were bombing Iraqi airfields but were not targeting Iraqi aircraft.
“If aircraft aren’t a direct threat, we won’t destroy them,” he said. “Maybe [Saddam Hussein] is waiting to use them.”
If that happens, Fynes said, he is confident coalition craft would quickly down the Iraqi fighter planes.
One reason to not destroy the planes, Fynes said, is they could be useful when Iraq is being rebuilt.
That was a different philosophy from what came out in a press briefing Monday afternoon by U.S. Central Command leaders in Doha, Qatar. In Doha, American commanders said U.S. planes have taken out Iraqi fighter planes that have been spotted on the ground, including aircraft located near a cemetery.
Among other points Fynes made in the 30-minute briefing:
• The British have had success using “Storm Shadow” bombs, new weapons that use a double-warhead and have been successful in penetrating and destroying several reinforced bunkers.• In several cases, fighter pilots have taken laser-guided bombs off their initial targets when it appeared their actual objectives may have been different than the military objectives about which they had been briefed.• Saddam structurally reinforced many government buildings and created backup systems so bombed targets can be rebuilt quickly or may be hard to destroy in a single bombing run.• In the past two days, the sorties have shifted from bombing command and control and communication system targets to providing close air support.
Great care has been used to avoid using weapons that are too powerful, Fynes said. “We don’t use a hammer to crack open an eggshell,” he said.