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Coalition air effort runs gamut of missions

WASHINGTON -- With their dazzling accuracy played out frequently for worldwide television audiences, precision-guided weapons have made media favorites out of strategic and tactical bombing missions.

But there is a wide variety of other air operations going on around the clock that are just as important to the war effort, said the combined forces air component commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, speaking to a group of Pentagon reporters via teleconference from his headquarters in Saudi Arabia on April 5, said the missions run the gamut from close-air support, to airlift, to those involving unmanned vehicles and satellites.

"We are conducting operations across the spectrum, including strategic attack, counterair, interdiction, close-air support, mobility, intra- and intertheater airlift, and reconnaissance, all simultaneously," he said. "In the south, we have had such a rapid movement of surface forces that we've progressed straight from some strategic attack targets and interdiction targets straight to close air support. And now we are providing intratheater airlift because we are operating off a number of previously owned Iraqi airfields."

Those remote airfields are quickly becoming a home for an array of coalition aircraft, he added.

"We've got A-10s (Thunderbolt IIs) operating off of them, as well as combat rescue assets," he said. "We are also moving C-130s (Hercules) and C-17s (Globemaster IIIs) across those airfields now. A lot of that is due to partnerships with special operations, but it is also due to an incredibly effective partnership with the surface forces."

West of Baghdad, coalition air efforts have been orchestrated with special operations forces, the general said. North of the capital city, he said, it is a different matter altogether.

"The north front still calls for interdiction, along with some strategic attack, and a lot of close air support." he said.

At the heart of the effort has been a stellar performance by coalition tanker aircraft and their crews.

"The tankers have been the true backbone of this war," he said. "They have consistently been able to get the fuel to the right asset at the right time."

It has been a total effort, combining the resources of each service, as well as other nations participating in the war effort. Unmanned vehicles have also been key, he said.

"I am a big fan of UAVs," he said. "Because of their persistence, they can stay over a target for hours. From the very beginning we have had Predators up in the vicinity of Baghdad, and from the beginning we have had Global Hawks over the top of Baghdad. They are amazing systems and provide a capability and a set of options for the air commander that is just outstanding. We are at a threshold of something very exciting and new with unmanned aerial vehicles. They give us a wonderful capability."

Moseley said the reconnaissance capability provided by the Predator and Global Hawk aircraft is being complemented by a robust set of satellites, able to give commanders an even closer look at the evolving situation on the battlefield.

"We have in excess of 50 satellites that we are using in Operation Iraqi Freedom," he said. "They have been just unbelievably capable - not just the Global Positioning System, but all the others that are able to support both conventional surface forces, naval forces, special-operations forces and the air forces themselves."

When the shooting stops - and possibly before it stops - airpower will provide a key resource for the delivery of humanitarian aid, Moseley said.

"You bet we will be flying those missions," he said. "The airfields we are operating off right now are in slightly remote areas, but we will be flying to all airfields, including those in the major cities, as soon as we can. We have that capability, and it is the right thing to do."

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