Talking Proud --- Military

Battle for Fallujah, our warfighters towered in maturity and guts


April 28, 2005

Operation Dawn - Al Fajr

Brief comments on air power in urban warfare

We have not talked too much about air power employed in the attack. This is, really, better discussed as a separate report, but there are some things that should be highlighted with regard to Operation Dawn - al Fajr.


This is a USAF F-16C Fighting Falcon assigned to the 522nd Fighter Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., firing an AGM-65H Maverick air-to-ground missile at a target located over the Utah Test and Training Range. These kinds of aircraft and munitions were employed in Fallujah. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Ammons. Presented by Air Force Link.


Army Cobra helicopter firing Hellfire missile. Presented by FAS Military Analysis Network.

Employment of air power in an urban environment is a difficult, and, controversial subject. There are those who say that air power against cities is a "blunt instrument," even when precision weapons are being employed. Soldiers on the ground in Fallujah will tell you that they much preferred air power with smart weapons to artillery when first-shot accuracy was important. We cannot get into this debate here.

The truth is that airmen will continue to fight in cities with their aircraft and the munitions mounted on them. Urban growth continues unabated, cities have strategic value, and militarily it makes more sense to fire in a few laser guided bombs and missiles from a stand-off distance than risking a company or more of soldiers on the ground. What we mean is, fire the laser guided missile and then let the troops on the ground take their objective.

Captain Troy Thomas, USAF, writing
"Slumlords: Aerospace power in urban fights," for the Spring 2002 edition of Aerospace Journal, has said this:

"Airmen will fight in cities, which are integral to operations across the spectrum of conflict for two principal reasons: urbanization and strategic value. Both of these areas are increasingly important factors for the future, when, as we anticipate, the level of conflict will increase in cities as it takes on a variety of forms."

Writing
"Iraq Note: The true nature of urban warfare" for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, published on March 30, 2003, Anthony H. Cordesman said this:

"It is silly to ignore the constant use of precision airpower in heavily populated areas, or to assume that when ground forces do close in on populated areas ... that bombing will not continue to be used – along with precision artillery – to strike at (enemy) forces. The Pentagon has said that the rules of engagement are that force protection has priority over minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage, and that this is a fundamental part of 'effects-based' bombing. Simulations, discussions and analyses that ignore the continuing role of air in urban warfare are simply decoupled from reality."

From a military standpoint in today's age, using artillery and air as blunt instruments in urban warfare is counterproductive. It creates too much damage which in turn creates too many obstacles for the ground force to climb through and too many hiding places for enemy forces. It also turns the local population against us. The Fallujah air effort focused on as much "direct fire" as was possible, which means firing directly at a specific target with a precision munition.

The second point people must keep in mind is that a decision was made to conduct a full assault on Fallujah and give it back to the Government of Iraq and Iraqis. Once that was made, air power had to be employed to support the ground forces who had to execute the assault. If you were to wear the shoes of those ground-pounders, you'd want this air power readily available, around the clock, and that's exactly what they got. Furthermore, most of the buildings in Fallujah were constructed from concrete and walls were as much as three feet thick. Air power and artillery were among the only weapons that could destroy the targets inside those buildings without the ground force having to physically go in and check every room. The ground force did that, but in the best of circumstances after air power and artillery had taken the lion's share of a toll on the enemy.

There is no question but that the assault on Fallujah resulted in a lot of damage. The Kryss Tal website in the UK has posted pictures that will bear that out. Here are two:




Set aside for a moment that the enemy was warned, over and over, in the clearest possible language. The enemy decided to stay and use the city as its fortress and made it one of the largest munitions storage areas in the country. If those munitions were struck, they exploded, and they did a lot of peripheral damage. The point is that the enemy created a situation in Fallujah where destruction was inevitable.

Global Security has presented some superb satellite imagery of this battle in Fallujah. We are not image interpreters, and one is obliged to see things from the ground instead of depending solely on satellite imagery. But we have extracted two images of the same area in Fallujah, the first shot taken on November 4, 2004, the second on November 14, 2004.


Southern Fallujah, November 4, 2004


Southern Fallujah, November 14, 2004

The area highlighted by the red box shows clearly that a building has been destroyed. We do not know how, or what it was. There does seem to be some peripheral damage just to the right of the destroyed building. But, from these views, just about everything else in the area stands, though we presume some windows have been broken out etc. If one recalls how we did business in Berlin from the air, the conclusion would be that this was a precision attack. We might add we could not even do this well in Vietnam. Old timers will recall that the city of Hué was essentially leveled to the ground.

For purposes of the Battle for Fallujah, there was no threat from enemy aircraft. American air power had complete air superiority; actually, complete air dominance. The number one air mission, therefore, was force protection and close air support the troops on the ground. This support was enhanced by providing expanded situational awareness directly from air reconnaissance and surveillance vehicles to the tactical level on the ground, rapid reaction precision air strikes, armed escorts for troops moving on the ground, and airlift support of troops and supplies.


This is a frame off a F-16 attack video display of an attack in Fallujah. We have seen the video from which this was drawn. It is our understanding that this attacking USAF F-16 pilot was in communication with a forward air controller who was observing a building in the upper portion of this frame, as well as another target. The F-16 at the beginning of the video had been authorized to attack this latter target, but then a group of enemy forces emerged from a nearby building and were spotted. The F-16 pilot was then authorized to engage this group instead. He changed the course of a weapon he had already dropped and the weapon struck these enemy troops directly on target. This frame is of a moment in time about 5-10 seconds before this group was destroyed. Photo frame presented by strategypage.com

We feel obliged to underscore this: American air power was used nearly completely to support the soldier, Marine, airman and sailor on the ground. When buildings or force concentrations were struck, they were struck to protect our sons and daughters, and that was done as precisely as wartime conditions and technology permit. No one in the world other than a few close allies does this as well as Americans.

There were threats to our air forces from the ground. The enemy employed surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. Helicopters were especially vulnerable to these threats.

Many targets that might have looked "innocent" to the casual observer were attacked from the air and ground and produced multiple secondary explosions that destroyed those buildings and other buildings near them, and, no doubt, injured and killed civilians in the immediate area. These targets were far from innocent, but instead were weapons and munitions store houses, munitions factories, and enemy troop "safe houses." For example, the photo at the opening of this paragraph shows troops preparing to destroy weapons found in a cache in a safe house operating as a charity (Photo credit: Scott Peterson, Getty Images, presented by The Christian Science Monitor)


An aerial photo taken shortly after Marines called in close-air support to breach a wall surrounding a mosque shows the accuracy of the laser-guided bomb. Marines were under attack from enemy forces using the protected site as a platform from which to fire on advancing Marines. The attackers using this wall as protection were killed. Photo credit: Department of Defense. Presented by USMC.

The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems employed prior to the assault on Fallujah were many, as we have described in a previous section of this report. The capability they represented is far beyond ever employed in any war.

Air planners had mapped Fallujah so precisely that they were working with street addresses. Information about a total of some 800 buildings were in a targeting and weaponeering data base, with accurate coordinates. Air planners had a "play-book" of pre-planned targets and weapons to be employed against them. They also had access to real-time surveillance and reports from troops on the ground that allowed them to observe many individual street battles at a time. Intricate and combat worthy communications networks gave air controllers the exact same picture seen by the soldier, Marine, airman and sailor on the ground.

Rear Adm. Kenneth D. Slaght, commander of San Diego-based Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), recently told Sea Power:

“This nation’s great technological advantage is in creating sensors … but what is really transformational is the ability to link those sensors to the warfighters.”

Old-timers in the US military will understand these words well. We have long had incredible sensor capabilities, including in Vietnam, but it has been like pulling teeth from the jaws of the American intelligence community to link these sensors directly to the warfighter. That linkage at long last has been made, can never be broken, and must be improved continuously.

Complete air dominance is crucial to this sensor capability and the ability to protect forces on the ground at any time they need it. US forces flew whatever they wanted virtually wherever they wanted. Sensor and strike aircraft were placed in holding patterns over the city and they acquired their targets from altitudes above the battlespace never before experienced in urban warfare. As a general rule, fighters were kept on station until they expended their ordnance.


A pair of U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B II Harriers prepare to refuel during missions over Iraq, from a U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt Erik Gudmundso. Presented by Navy.mil

If they ran low on fuel, they exited their orbit "layer", took on fuel air-to-air, and returned to the slot assigned awaiting attack instructions.


Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Presented by USAF Electronic Systems Command, Hansom AFB

The planning for air support was meticulous. Much of the pre-planning was done at the combined air operations center in Qatar.

During the battle, aircraft over the city had to be controlled carefully in terms of time, altitude blocks, and ingress and egress routes. Aircraft were stacked, "Layered all the way up" as described by Lt. Col. David Staven, USAF, commander, 9th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron. An AP report published on November 12, 2004 said this:

"The skies over Fallujah are so crowded with U.S. military aircraft that they are layered in stacks above the city, from low-flying helicopters and swooping attack jets to a jet-powered unmanned spy drone that flies above 60,000 feet ... No fewer than 20 types of aircraft have been thrown into the fight, including 10 fixed-wing planes, three types of helicopters and seven kinds of unmanned drones ... Much of the air war is being directed by 10 teams of ground controllers, who moved into the city with Army and Marine fighters. The controllers call down bombing raids or rocket attacks on insurgent positions in the city."

Each of those layers had fighter aircraft on call for designated time slots. They were employed so there were no gaps in coverage, 24 hours per day. They flew in "holding areas" until they were given their target coordinates. Broadly speaking, each attack aircraft had about three minutes to implement its attack run and it then had to clear out because there was another one hot on his tail making his run. The American and Iraqi forces on the ground had these resources available as a constant resource. Lt. Col. Staven explained the mission in easy to understand terms:

"You take out the threat from the air so you don't have to get soldiers into the building to clear it on foot. 'It's better to take the enemy out from a distance than to go face to face with him.''

Air Force or Marine tactical air control teams, who carry computers and laser target designator gear in backpacks, climbed to rooftops of Fallujah and pointed out targets for Air Force, Marine and Navy attack jets.


An American Special Forces soldier, left, with two marines, work from a roof in Fallujah to call an airstrike, and then instantly assess the battle damage. Photo credit: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times

Some of these teams were paired with Army or Navy special forces teams or snipers. Together, they worked on the front lines and called airstrikes within two blocks of their own positions.


Tech. Sgt. Scott McDaniel (background) talks to inbound aircraft as Staff Sgt. Carl Hill uses a laser to highlight a target during a weapons interdiction mission in Iraq. Sergeants McDaniel and Hill are both tactical air control party Airmen with the 116th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott Reed. Presented by Air Force Link

They primarily used their lap-top computers to receive live video transmissions from unmanned reconnaissance vehicles above, nailed down the targeting coordinates, and radioed them out.


This is a Marine Dragon Eye UAV reconnaissance ground control station (GCS). These two Marines have found space on top a building. The GCS, a computer system designed to control and operate the aircraft from the ground, is a touch screen, laptop computer with wireless satellite connections, which sends signals to the plane. The operator can view the video through a pair of goggles connected to the GCS. He, in turn, is able to talk to troops on the ground and air and artillery controllers. Presented by Global Security.

Air-ground coordination had to be efficient for the Operation Dawn - al Fajr plan to work. For example, one Marine unit, hit hard after it passed across Phase Line Fran into the southern sector of the city, had several troops wounded and remained under heavy fire. The wounded were loaded in medical vehicles or just kept fighting, and their entire group had to keep on moving south to enable fighter aircraft to come in and wipe out the enemy forces firing at them from buildings all around them. In short, even with wounded, there was no time to linger.

The stacks consisted of Navy carrier-launched, land-based Marine and land-based USAF fighter aircraft. AC-130 gunships were also there. We also understand British air units were used as well.

Much of the war from the air involved precision munitions against individual buildings. Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, the commander of air forces for the US Central Command, has said:

"Not a single dumb bomb (was used)."

Ground controllers used a combination of colored smoke, lasers, and other target designation methods to pinpoint targets for the fighters overhead. Ground controllers also verbally guided pilots through visual landmarks to the target. Friendly forces sometimes identified themselves with colored tarps. In many cases, controllers called in strikes very close to their own positions.


Aviation Ordnancemen, assigned to the “Rampagers” of Strike Fighter Squadron Eight Three (VFA-83), finish loading two of the Navy's latest Satellite Guided Bomb, the GBU-38, aboard the USS John F. Kennedy on November 9, 2004. The GBU-38 is a 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) that uses a standard Mk-82 bomb, and was developed for precision bombing in urban warfare. The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance kit that converts existing unguided bombs into precision-guided "smart" munitions. The tail section contains an inertial navigational system (INS) and a global positioning system (GPS). JDAM improves the accuracy of unguided bombs in any weather condition. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Joshua Karsten Presented by Navy News.

The favorite munitions employed from the air were the Hellfire missile and the 500-pound version of the GPS guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), known as the GBU-38.


The pilot of an A-10 Thunderbolt II fires its cannon at a target in Iraq. The aircraft is from the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Wolfe. Presented by Air Force Link

The battle flow did require a significant amount of machine-gun and cannon strafing by low flying fighter aircraft. This happened most often when a ground force was ambushed and needed a strafing run to kill off or scare off the enemy ambush force.

As a general rule, fighters, bombers and gunships were employed against clusters of enemy forces identified by our ground forces or by real time air surveillance. These enemy forces were either inside or outside buildings, in trucks, or they were snipers. Readers will recall from an earlier section that all Iraqi vehicles parked in the same location for more than three days were attacked and destroyed. Many of these were destroyed from the air, and most of the attacks against them resulted in massive secondary explosions, indicating these vehicles were loaded up and ready to use for suicide attacks.

To be effective, air crews had to destroy their targets on their first attack; if they failed, the target would re-position somewhere else. As enemy forces would flee a target area, real time surveillance would follow them and a follow-on attack would occur soon thereafter. Attack aircraft were also used to protect re-supply convoys and to search the neighboring environs for any signs of enemy forces in hiding or on their way to the battle zone.

The main fixed wing attack aircraft employed in the battle of Fallujah included the following:

  • USMC AV-8B Harrier and F/A-18 fighters
  • USN F/A-18 and F-14 fighters from the carrier USS John Kennedy
  • USAF AC-130 gunships
  • USAF F-15 and F-16 fighters


Marine VMFA (AW)-242 squadron F/A-18. The squadron is known as the "Bats." We show this photo to let you get a good view of the "Bats" logo on the rear vertical stabilizer. Photo presented by Bats in Nose Art, by Scott Pedersen, PhD.

The 3rd Marine Air Wing (MAW) put together the Marine air package. Its VMFA (AW)-242 squadron of 12 F/A-18 all-weather jet attack aircraft delivered 75 percent of the ordnance employed by the 3rd MAW in the battle for Fallujah.


VMFA (AW) -242 "loadout." Note air-to-air missiles for self-defense on the wing tips. There are two (brown, red, yellow) laser guided bombs (LGB) on the right wing. This aircraft is using the GBU-12 500 lb. bomb, enough to drop a house, but small enough to employ close to friendly forces. Just outboard these LGBs is at least one Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), in this case a GBU-38, a new version first employed during this batgtle. The JDAM is an upgrade of general purpose bombs designed to improve their accuracy by feeding targeting data from the aircraft's inertial navigation system (INS) to the munition's computer. They then make corrections on their way to the target using their own INS and Global Positioning Data (GPS) signals. The black cylindrical pod hanging centerline is the LITENING Advanced Airborne Targeting and Navigation Pod which provides the pilot with real-time, forward looking infrared (nightime) and digital video imagery (mostly daytime) and target laser designation from the aircraft as well as laser detection for targets marked from the ground. On the left wing, you can see a fuel pod and right next to it, outboard the tank, is a Maverick AGM-65E air-to-surface tactical missile. It is the laser guided version of the missile.


This is an airborne photo of Fallujah under attack during Day 1. Both photos provided by a VMFA (AW)-242 member.

The squadron, known as the "Bats," focused on close air support for the troops on the ground, dropping ordnance as close as 200 meters (600 feet) from friendly forces engaged. The squadron logged more than 1,500 hours aloft during the battle, more than normally flown during a month. Ground controllers were embedded within the ground units, responding to a call for close air support within what ground commanders call "two minutes to live." Pilots from VMFA (AW)-242 were among those ground controllers assigned to infantry battalions.

Let's walk through some of the other aircraft employed, starting with the AC-130 gunship, known as "Spectre." You will see that each of these aircraft was employed in the main to directly support the "grunt" on the ground. If you're that grunt, it is a special feeling to know these aircraft are there just for you, and these air crews will risk it all, just for you.


This Spectre gunship aircraft was designed and built to provide close air support to and force protection for the warfighter on the ground. It was also designed to conduct air interdiction of enemy supply and troop movements on the ground. In short, this is a "ground-pounder's" aircraft.


These are heavily armed aircraft employing side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems. They provide targeted firepower or area saturation and spend long periods flying over their target area, at night and in adverse weather. In the case of Fallujah, they did not require and fighter escort or combat air patrols, because there was no air threat. That in turn released those fighters to attack targets on the ground as well. This is why achieving and maintaining air superiority right at the beginning of any war is so vital.


The Spectre sensor suite consists of a television sensor, infrared sensor and radar. These sensors allow the gunship crew to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and enemy targets in most environmental conditions.


You can see from the size of the munition being handled aboard the Spectre that you do not want to be on the receiving end of this weapons system. In addition, this weapon system is a very precise system, largely because of its sensor-weapons integration and the skill of its air crews. Those who refer to it as an "indiscriminate" weapon do not understand the weapon system and how it is employed. We have viewed several videos of the Spectre system in action, in Iraq and Afghanistan. When peripheral damage is caused, it is almost always caused because the crew struck a valid target, such as a building filled with ammunition or other explosives, and numerous secondary explosions damage adjacent areas. This is the risk incurred by an enemy that stores such things in civilian neighborhoods. The enemy must bear the responsibility for that decision.

One Marine officer in Fallujah, commenting on the AC-130 just prior the November 2004 assault on the city, said this:

"A C130 Spectre gunship was in DS (direct support) of my Battalion, doing figure eights all night, just waiting for his chance. They target on the impact of our mortars and 155's. A four-second burst from the Spectre, all weapons systems. That's it, just a four-second burst. Not a sweeter sound in the world. That makes it game, set, and match! Hadji don't want to play no more tonight. Took a patrol out a few hours later, the ground from the rounds impacting, especially from the Spectre, looked like a damn tornado went through there. Beautiful sight."

Another soldier addressed the effects of combined AC-130 and artillery attacks, saying this:

"An AC-130 gunship raked the city with 40 mm cannon fire as explosions from U.S. artillery lit up the night sky. Intermittent artillery fire blasted southern neighborhoods of Fallujah, and orange fireballs from high explosive airbursts could be seen above the rooftops."

Lt. Colonel Staven described Spectre this way:

"(A pair of AC-130 gunships) just walked (munitions) rounds down the street in front of the Bradley teams (during the initial assault). They sent two gunships home with no rounds left.''

We'll now turn to the USN F/A-18 and F-14 fighters off the carrier USS
John Kennedy.


The USS Kennedy (CV-67), with Carrier Air Wing 17 (CAW-17) prepared to support the ground assault on Fallujah

The
Kennedy's Carrier Air Wing 17, CAW-17, commanded by Captain Mark Guadagnini, had the task of attacking enemy positions in support of Marine, Army and Iraqi National Guard forces on the ground. The Kennedy was on station in the Arabian Gulf, the only US aircraft carrier in that area at the time.


An F-14B Tomcat, assigned to the “Jolly Rogers” of Fighter Squadron 103 (VF-103), launches from the flight deck of the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) on November 9, 2004. Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) aircraft aboard Kennedy supported ground troops in Fallujah, Iraq, under Operation Dawn - Al Fajr. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Joshua Karsten. Presented by Navy News.

The F-14 "Tomcat" is one of the world's premier air-to-air combat aircraft, along with the USAF's F-15 "Eagle." The US already owned the skies, so the F-14 was largely used as a forward air controller (FAC) and an air-to-ground attack aircraft.


An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the “Rampagers” of Strike Fighter Squadron Eight Three (VFA-83) launches from USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), November 17, 2004. The Kennedy Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) are executing missions in support of Operation Dawn-Al Fajr (New Dawn) in Fallujah, Iraqi. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg. Presented by Navy News.

The F/A-18 "Hornet" was used as a bombing and strafing aircraft. Navy EA-6B "Prowler" aircraft from Electronic Attack Squadron 132 (VAQ-132) were used to collect signals intelligence and jam enemy communications rendering them ineffective.

Commander Ryan "Doc" Scholl, commander Strike Fighter Squadron 81 (VFA-81), commented that his fliers got close enough to the enemy to see the firefights in the streets. Scholl underscored the importance and challenges of air and ground force coordination in the attack cycle:

"It's a very difficult yet satisfying relationship between a pilot, with a God's-eye-view of the city and the fight, and a joint tactical air controller on the ground who is in the middle of this firefight, and the cross-talk that goes on between you to be able to successfully put a weapon in the right spot and eliminate the fire that he's taking. It takes time, it takes a lot of imagination, it takes patience. But again, I'll fall back on the training and the joint procedures. Those two things combined enable us to be successful."


A Naval Aviator assigned to the “Sunliners” of Strike Fighter Squadron Eight One (VFA-81), completes final pre-flight checks on a AGM-65 Maverick missile prior to flight operations aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. The AGM-65 Maverick is a tactical, air-to-surface guided missile designed for close air support, interdiction and defense suppression missions. It is a "high probability of kill" weapon. It has a "launch-and-leave" capability that enables a pilot to fire it and immediately take evasive action or attack another target as the missile guides itself to the target. Mavericks can be launched from high altitudes to tree-top level and can hit targets ranging from a distance of a few thousand feet to 13 nautical miles at medium altitude. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Tommy Gilligan. Presented by Navy News.

He also commented on the need for accuracy:

"That (GBU-38) reduces our probability of damaging surrounding areas. (It allows fliers to preserve) the walls of the houses that are right next door to it. One of the rules of engagement is positive target ID (identification). We have to have that. We have to see what we're going after."

The Kennedy launched and recovered aircraft 14-18 hours per day, with attack packages of from 6-10 aircraft per launch. During the height of Operation Dawn-Al Fajr, CAW-17 flew and average of 38 missions per day to support the troops on the ground. This next photo will demonstrate that the Kennedy came to do business.


An Aviation Ordnanceman observes a replenishment at sea with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) oiler USNS Guadalupe (T-A0 200) from the "bomb farm" aboard the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), November 9, 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Joshua Karsten. Presented by Navy News

The Marines provided the bulk of air resources. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing's (MAW) Marine Aircraft Group 13 (MAG-13), except for its logistics squadron, is an all-AV-8B Harrier II aircraft group, the Harrier being a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighter. MAG-13 has four Harrier squadrons: VMA-211 "Avengers," VMA-214 "Black Sheep," VMA-311 "Tomcats," and VMA-513 "Flying Nightmares." Three of the squadrons, 211, 214 and 311 along with their logistics squadron were at Al Asad Air Base from November 2004 through February 2005. VMA-214 was loaned out to MAG-16 to augment its helicopter forces with the Harrier II.


A VMA-311 AV-8B Harrier lands at Asad Air Base, Iraq. Photo credit: Cpl. C. Alex Herron, USMC


This is a VMA-311 Harrier being parked after returning from a mission over Iraq. This is not a Fallujah related photo, but gives you an idea of the Assad air base and the aircraft. Photo credit: Cpl. C. Alex Herron, USMC. Presented by Brandonblog.

We'll focus for a moment on the VMA-311 "Tomcats." The squadron arrived in Iraq on November 13, several days into the battle, and started flying combat missions within eight hours of arrival. As an aside, the squadron made Al Asad its base of operations, former home of an Iraqi MiG-21 squadron. Arab lettering and unit insignia still covered the walls.

One of the AV-8B Harrier’s most valuable assets is a camera pod that was designed to guide bombs and can spot men and cars in almost any weather, at distances where subjects don’t know they’re being watched. The Harrier’s outstanding slow flight and hovering performance made it uniquely suited to employ its camera, then accurately deliver ordnance in minutes within 150 meters of friendly troops in Fallujah and other cities.


This is an AV-8B Harrier loaded with laser guided bombs. Photo presented by Air Force Magazine.

The Harrier also was heavily used during the assault. Major Andrew Hesterman, serving at the time as air officer for RCT-7, has said that of the over 170 airstrikes called in by RCT-7, half were delivered by Harriers. And, the RCT was calling ordnance drops within 150 meters of friendly forces.

This was a Marine-led assault with heavy Army participation on the ground, and mostly Marine, Navy and Army aircraft were employed.

While USAF assets were used, the USAF had the job of patrolling other cities while this fight in Fallujah went on. There was concern that the enemy would start trouble in other cities to draw resources away from the Fallujah operation. The USAF taking responsibility for responding to problems in the other cities assured that air resources committed to the Fallujah attack stayed committed there.


Two F-15E Strike Eagles from the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron soar through the skies of Iraq during a combat air support mission. The 494th EFS deployed to Iraq from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Lee A. Osberry Jr.. Presented by Air Force Link

To conclude this report, we have selected an account written by an Air Force KC-135R tanker aircraft commander (AC), Major Zarnik (since promoted to lieutenant colonel). He conveyed his thoughts about retrieving and repatriating the first 22 American military troops to have died in this battle for Fallujah. .

"Major Zarnik, these are my Marines, and I am giving them to you." A concluding story