WASHINGTON, May 27, 2016 — In a hangar off the flightline at Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey, Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel — accompanied by 447th Air Expeditionary Group Commander Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy — greeted representatives from a Marine Corps EA-6 Prowler Squadron, a KC-135 tanker crew and several aircraft maintainers.
The U.S. Central Command commander’s visit to Incirlik May 23 was the final stop in a trip this week that took him to five countries in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility.
Speaking to reporters traveling
with Votel, McCarthy said he commands 550 military personnel involved
with his 12 A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft and 12 KC-135
Stratotankers —350 to 375 of them associated with A-10 maintenance or
“We handle roughly 33 percent of the air refueling for Operation Inherent Resolve,
and on the close-air support side, the A-10 side, we handle about
around one-fifth of coalition close-air support,” McCarthy said, “and
when you're talking U.S.-only it's just under 30 percent.”
The colonel said right now most
A-10 missions are over Syria and include air support for the Syrian
Democratic Forces in the northeastern part of the country.
The tempo of operations over Syria is 24/7, McCarthy said.
“And that’s not just the A-10s. That's the coalition,” he added.
The A-10s, commonly known as
“Warthogs,” arrived Oct. 18, 2015, just after the Turkish government
opened Incirlik up to strike assets, McCarthy said. The A-10 crews at
that time were from Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia, and they
redeployed in late April. Now crews from the Boise, Idaho, Air National
Guard fly and maintain the A-10s.
“We have lots of spare aircraft
[and] we're priority one with spare parts, so we generally have all the
capability to fix our aircraft on hand. In fact,” McCarthy
said, referring to an A-10 in the hangar behind him, “this is a jet
that's just about ready to go into phase inspection in the next hangar.”
The colonel said a phase
inspection is done on an A-10 every 5 days or so, but “with Moody, in
six months they did 2.5 years’ worth of phase inspections ... These
guys, when you have nothing to do but focus on your job, you're just
cranking out the missions.”
Deliberate versus Dynamic Targeting
Coalition partners are at Incirlik
too, the colonel said, “but I would say we have just as much of an
international presence here at Incirlik as we do U.S. [forces].”
The A-10 missions are usually autonomous, McCarthy said.
“Integration isn’t required at the
dynamic level -- so a troops-in-contact [report] pops up or a target
pops up at short notice, and we respond. It generally doesn't involve an
integrated effort with the coalition. It's just usually a two-ship of
A-10s that show up overhead and we conduct our mission,” he added.
“Where we do integrate as a coalition is on deliberate targeting, deliberate strikes,” McCarthy explained.
To coordinate a deliberate strike,
the Combined Air Operations Center works with a regional Combined Joint
Task Force target engagement authority to vet a target, determining
which weapons are needed to strike the target, which assets have the
right capabilities, and which assets are available, he added.
“Deliberate targeting is only
about 10 percent of our missions versus dynamic. You never know when the
dynamic need is going to arise, that's why you need aircraft airborne
pretty much all the time in the strategic locations,” McCarthy said.
Avoiding Collateral Damage
Earlier in the week in Baghdad,
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bill Mullen, the target engagement authority for
Central Iraq, discussed the strike-vetting process.
“The No. 1 thing when it comes to
strikes is making sure we do as little damage as possible, especially
killing civilians. We try very hard to keep that from happening,” he
For McCarthy, the decision to employ the A-10 itself speaks to the collateral damage and civilian casualty issues.
“Gone are the days when they had
to download bombs, upload torpedoes, and where they could only carry one
thing. On the A-10 we carry just about everything that we're slated to
do [on a mission] on one aircraft,” he said.
A fully loaded A-10 can carry
2,000-pound and 500-pound joint direct attack munitions, or JDAMs,
bombs; laser-guided JDAMs; the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical
missile; and, McCarthy said, “don’t ever forget the [30-millimeter
GAU-8/A Avenger] gun with 1,150 rounds -- what that aircraft was built
Target, Weapon Selection
The colonel said the gun — a
hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type auto-cannon -- is the
only thing on the A-10 that’s not guided by a Global Positioning System
signal or a laser beam.
“But you don't need it to, because it's so deadly accurate,” he added.
Pilots tend to use the gun when collateral damage is a concern, he said.
Pilots might use a 2,000-pound
bomb if they wanted to go after a large building, for example, but to
avoid collateral damage they might instead use a smaller bomb or delay
the fuzing, allowing the bomb to penetrate the target a little before
exploding to contain the blast, the colonel said.
If the mission involves a
checkpoint being run by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the
A-10s “want to go after the guys running the checkpoint, but we don't
want to target the vehicles they're inspecting because there's no way to
know whether they're civilian noncombatants or not, we don't take the
chance [of using a bomb],” McCarthy said.
“That's a type of target we'll go
after with the gun,” he added. “It’s a low-collateral-damage weapon,
pinpoint accurate, and we employ high-explosive incendiary rounds so
nothing's walking away from that if they get hit.”
Using Their Expertise
The mission at Incirlik, McCarthy added, is like an Olympics for A-10 pilots.
“This is where we get to use our craft,” he said.
McCarthy added, “All those months
and years of hard training are paying off, and that's why you're not
seeing anyone getting shot down, it's why we're not getting
surface-to-air fire hits and why our maintainers are able to generate
100 percent of the air tasking order missions.”