Lessons learned in past conflicts have now made it possible to bomb enemy targets within just a few feet to reduce collateral damage, a top Air Force commander said Feb. 25 at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium.
Since World War II, the accuracy of bombing attacks has improved from around 3,300 feet away from a target to only 10 feet in current operations.
“We went from missing a target by over half a mile as the norm to literally putting (numerous) 2,000-pound (joint direct attack munitions) through the same hole,” Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr., the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said at the symposium.
Brown pointed to two reasons for the advent of precision-guided bombs.
“The innovation of Airmen and industry to pursue advances in technology were applied to a problem of achieving increased accuracy, and second, merging (that) innovation with the successes and lessons of past conflicts,” Brown said.
Improvements to the Air Force’s GPS satellite constellation, which launched its last Block IIF-type satellite in early February, could place airstrikes even closer. The next round of GPS satellites, Block III, is expected to begin launching next year.
“If we don’t have GPS, it would be very difficult,” Brown said. “GPS is hugely important in what we do. All of our partners across the region are dropping GPS-guided munitions.”
Of all the weapons deployed in the command’s region, 99 percent of them are precision guided.
“Because we have that capability, it allows us to take very few weapons and to use them to greater effect,” he said.
There’s still increased activity in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, where coalition members have released more than 37,000 weapons since August 2014, according to its airpower statistics.
Ongoing airstrikes have restricted the movement of enemy fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
“They no longer have the capability to take large swathes of land by surprise,” Brown said. “A lot of that has to do with good airpower.”
Strikes have also destroyed the terrorist group’s revenue sources, such as its banks, and oil and gas facilities.
“That precision has been truly effective,” he said.
But there has been some ambiguity with the U.S.-led coalition sharing airspace with the Russian military that is protecting the Syrian regime.
“The Russians’ presence has changed the air defense environment and increased the complexity in the region,” Brown said.
The general assured that this situation won’t stop coalition airstrikes.
“It’s been my position since the Russians showed up that we will not cede the airspace,” he said. “We will continue to operate where we need to on a day-to-day basis to execute the mission.”