From Aviation Week and Space Technology 2005 May


Warfighting for aviators has fundamentally changed. In Iraq and Afghanistan, dropping bombs has given way to gathering intelligence.

Moreover, the heartbeat of aerial activity has shifted from the flightline and cockpit to the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) here (serving both Afghanistan and Iraq) where an increasingly focused group of combined-service and multinational specialists work to analyze, fuse and make sense of the data that pours in.

In Iraq, even amidst a proliferation of suicide attacks and improvised bomb blasts, attack missions are now averaging only a fraction of the combat air operations. The primary focus is intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and parsing data to analyze enemy networks, locate insurgent hideouts and capture weapons caches.

"I would say combat operations now favor fewer kinetics [or attacks with explosives]--maybe 10% vs. 90%--whereas during the Falluja offensive [last year] that was 100% of our focus: air support requests, bombing, tracking troops in contact," says U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean McCarthy, chief of combat operations. "It's a lot more focused on supporting ground troops, looking at insurgent cells and going after threats to convoys instead of an air war."

Here is an often-repeated scenario condensed from a number of interviews in the U.S. and Iraq: At night, a coalition ground party raids the house of an armed insurgent group.

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