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Navy, Air Force sink Iraqi patrol boat

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (AFPN) -- U.S. Navy and Air Force assets teamed together to target and sink a fast-attack Iraqi patrol boat in the Arabian Gulf on March 21 using precision-guided ordnance.

A Navy P-3C Orion long-range patrol aircraft located and tracked the patrol boat and then relayed the information to an Air Force AC-130 gunship, which targeted the boat. The P-3C is assigned to Patrol Squadron 46 Task Force 57, and the AC-130 is from the 4th Special Operations Squadron Deployed.

The action took place next to several oil platform superstructures located off southern Iraq's Al Faw Peninsula, approximately 295 miles southeast of Baghdad. Many of these oil platforms dot the coastal area throughout the Arabian Gulf region and are used to pump oil to ocean-going tankers.

Aware of how Saddam Hussein's regime had set oil wells on fire during the last Gulf War, coalition special operations forces deployed to secure the platform to prevent sabotage and eliminate any chances of ecological disaster. It was during the actual mission execution that the Iraqi patrol boat was spotted by the Orion crewmembers.

"This type of mission of the P-3C showed just how capable and valuable a Navy platform it is," said Cmdr. John Robey, Combined Forces Air Component Command P3 liaison officer.

According to Robey, there were two P-3C's supporting special operations forces by providing real-time video downlinks using an advanced imagery system and nighttime infrared capability.

"Not exactly the most traditional use of the P-3," Robey said. "It is a testimony to the plane and crew and to the new technology that we were able to accomplish the initial mission of keeping the command center informed with real-time information, then engage in the more time-honored role of maritime surveillance, and then support with the AC-130 gunship putting munitions on target.

"After the P-3C crew noticed the patrol boat during the initial mission, they carefully monitored the vessel throughout the entire operation," said Robey. "When the operation was over, the crew then coordinated with the AC-130 to have the boat destroyed."

Iraqi navy vessels concern coalition naval forces in the northern Arabian Gulf because of possible attempts to lay mines, according to Navy officials operating out of the Combined Air Operations Center at a desert air base in Southwest Asia. Several small coastal vessels have already been captured with mines on board. The Iraqi navy has mainly operated out of the deep-sea port of Umm Qasr and has been a coastal defense force which could carry and deploy mines in and around the coastal ports, shipping lanes, or Al Faw Peninsula operating areas.

The AC-130 gunship, bristling with Vulcan and Bofor cannons, Gatling gun and 105 mm howitzer, is primarily used for close-air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. It is also used for perimeter and point defense, escort, landing, drop and extraction-zone support, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.

"The patrol boat was a target of opportunity," said Robey, "and anytime we can involve our traditional role with advanced technology and the ability to work with other coalition force assets like (special operations forces), and the Air Force, then that is a true measure of joint capability."

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