Operation Iraqi Freedom was unique in a number of ways. One of these was the rapidity with which coalition air and space forces established aerospace supremacy over Iraq. Air supremacy is defined as the ability to go anywhere and do anything with relative impunity. The Coalition declared that air supremacy was achieved on April 8, nearly two weeks after the war began. But in reality, Coalition forces had air supremacy virtually from the day the war began.
Aerospace supremacy, the absolute control of the airspace above the theater of conflict, was a vital prerequisite for the kind of joint campaign General Tommy Franks conducted. It was the basis for the application of overmatching power against all elements of the Iraqi regime and military system. With aerospace supremacy came the ability to conduct persistent surveillance of Iraqi territory. U.S. commanders could find, fix and attack Iraqi forces around the clock and in all kinds of weather employing a combination of space-based surveillance, airborne systems such as the E-3 AWACS, E-8 JSTARS, RC-135 Rivet Joint and P-3 Orion, the unmanned Global Hawk high altitude/long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle and tactical reconnaissance assets.
With freedom to roam the skies and the ability to see and track movement on the ground, Coalition aircraft could conduct round-the-clock strikes at all depths. In addition to striking strategic targets, tactical fighters such as the F-15, F-16, F/A-18, and B-1 and B-52 bombers, provided close air support to advancing Army and Marine Corps units. More than two-thirds of the air-delivered munitions employed in OIF were precision weapons such as the JDAM and JSOW.
The capability to exploit knowledge is a critical aspect of aerospace supremacy. The rapid collection, analysis and transmission of targeting information reduced the time it took to strike emerging targets from days to less than an hour. Unfortunately, in some cases archaic communications procedures and bureaucratic stovepipes prevented the most rapid transfer of information to the war fighters. For example, data from the Global Hawk, perched high over central Iraq, had to be transmitted back to the U.S. before being resent to the theater.
In the future, against a more capable opponent, the need for rapid dominance of the aerospace domain will be even more important. But, to achieve this objective, the United States will need an array of advanced systems able to take down an adversary’s critical capabilities at the outset of a war, kicking open the door for the rest of the aerospace armada. Aerospace supremacy will require investing in both the F/A-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter. These systems will help ensure that the lesson of OIF will be taught to any U.S. adversaries for decades to come
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