Naval Power Bolsters U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq

George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

Navy assets deployed to the Persian Gulf are responsible for providing the advanced fire power and weaponry used in targeted U.S. military strikes August 8 against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant artillery positions, Pentagon officials told

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Irbil, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Irbil where U.S. personnel are located, he said.

The fighter jets were launched from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, which has been forward deployed in the region for months.

Navy officials said the service’s move to position key platforms and assets in strategically vital areas is designed for precisely this reason – to be able and ready to quickly respond should they receive orders to conduct strikes or take military action.

“We were already where we needed to be,” a defense official said. “We maintain a continuous presence in the region.”

Although Friday’s initial strike was limited to a truck-towed artillery unit threatening U.S. personnel and facilities near Irbil, the military involvement is also designed to help ongoing humanitarian efforts to airdrop supplies into another area where displaced civilians are seeking refuge.

The decision to bomb the target was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander-in-chief, Kirby added. The the U.S. military will continue to take direct action against the group when it threatens U.S. personnel and facilities, he said.

Later in the day, the U.S. conducted two more bombings in the same area — one using a drone aircraft against a terrorist mortar position and another using four F/A-18s against a ISIL convoy of seven vehicles and another mortar position, according to a separate statement from Kirby.

The Bush carries as many as 44 F/A-18s, including both Hornets and the more technically advanced Super Hornets. In fact, Navy Hornet and Super Hornet pilots have been flying surveillance missions over Iraq for weeks, in part to use their on-board electro-optical cameras and infrared sensors to identify potential ISIL targets. These missions were done in anticipation of a potential order to conduct strikes, defense officials said.

F/A-18s are configured with a host of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons such as the two GBU-54 500-pound laser-guided bombs dropped near Erbil, Iraq. Laser-guided bombs are directed by a laser-designation from the air or nearby ground forces.

The GBU-54s used in the strike are known as Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions or LJDAMS. Many JDAMS also rely on GPS guidance to pinpoint their targets.

The GBU-54 is a 581-pound glide bomb with a range of up to 15 nautical miles, service officials said. The weapon uses semi-active laser guidance as well as GPS and inertial navigation systems.

Navy officials said standard laser-guidance packages on bombs prove exceptionally accurate in clear conditions against stationary targets. However, with significant amounts of environmental factors such as dust, smoke, fog, or cloud cover, the guidance packages can have difficulty maintaining “lock” on the laser designation while pursuing moving or maneuvering targets, officials said.

This is why the GBU-54 was engineered — it’s a dual-mode precision-guided bomb designed to destroyed fixed and re-locatable or moving targets, Navy officials said.


The Super Hornet is also configured to fire AIM-9X sidewinder air-to-air missile, the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, the Joint Standoff Weapon, the Small Diameter Bomb and the Mk-84 general purpose bomb, Navy officials said.

On the deck of the USS Bush, the F/A-18s are joined by five EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft, four E-2 Hawkeye surveillance planes, two C-2 cargo aircraft and as many as 12 MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters, Navy officials said.

In the Arabian Gulf, the USS Bush is joined by the USS Philippine Sea, a cruiser and two destroyers, the USS Roosevelt and USS O’Kane. Two amphibious assault ships are also part of the forward-deployed force, a big-deck amphib called the USS Bataan and a dock landing ship called the USS Gunston Hall. Another destroyer, the USS Arleigh Burke, is nearby in Bahrain, defense officials said.

As the U.S. military launches targeted airstrikes against ISIL, some analysts are wondering how the latest in surveillance and air-power technology might target small groups of ISIL fighters on-the-move – should strikes continue or escalate.

Given the prospect that more air attacks may follow these initial strikes, attacking ISIL may be more challenging than previous air attacks against fixed targets such as the initial bombing campaigns in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A dispersed group of fighters deliberately blending in with the civilian population and travelling in small groups in vehicles like pick-up trucks and armored vehicles might prove difficult or high-risk to pinpoint from the air with even the best precision-guided weaponry.

Nevertheless, one of the key architects of the air-power strategy used in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, called “effects-based” warfare, says using some of those same concepts may still apply when attacking a mobile insurgent terrorist group such as ISIL.

Retired Air Force Col. John Warden, known for his strategic involvement in creating and implementing “effects based” warfare, helped the George H.W. Bush administration prepare for the use of precision air-power in the Gulf War.

Effects based warfare is based on the premise that precision air power can achieve a particular strategic “effect” without necessarily attacking large numbers of fielded forces or the infrastructure of the attacked area. Success is achieved by attacking and disabling the enemy’s centers of gravity, referred to by Warden as the five rings – leadership, system essentials, infrastructure, population, fielded military forces.

“The concept of the five rings says that anytime you have more than one person operating against you, such as a group, you have the formation of a system,” Warden told in an interview.

Warden explained that this means any group, such as ISIL, would have the elements of the five rings such as leadership, supply lines or system essentials and places to store things such as infrastructure, fielded forces and potentially some support from the elements of the local population.

“ISIL looks pretty straightforward,” he said, suggesting that some elements of “effects-based” warfare could potentially prove useful against ISIL if attacks continue, despite the fact that they are largely a guerrilla force on the move and not a country or area with a fixed infrastructure.

The idea of effects-based warfare is to achieve what’s called strategic paralysis and render an enemy force unable to fight by targeting leadership headquarters, command and control and supply lines, Warden explained.

Avoiding civilian casualties through the use of strategy and precision technology from the air – all while preserving much of the infrastructure of the attacked area – is fundamental to effects-based warfare. The advent of precision weaponry such as GPS and laser-guided bombs has, to a large degree, made this possible.

This approach proved quite successful during the Gulf War and opening attack or “shock and awe” conducted at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Where we have had success it is not because we have killed every guy that has a bomb,” Warden said. “It is because we have succeeded in destroying the ability of the opposition group to function in an organized and coherent way by attacking the leadership, attacking their communications, and attacking their supply lines — for the most part — without doing any significant damage to general infrastructure and little or no damage to the population that they are operating in.”

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior and a former associate editor at

30 Comments on "Naval Power Bolsters U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq"

  1. Unfortunately it our only real air power in Iraq now only USAF attacks can come from Turkey and there no real fighter bomber stationed there now. SO Naval air power is our only real way to attack ISIS now. As for this propaganda on this post on the F-18E/F its good for what its doing for ground attack but its not a true fleet defender it lacks real long range AAM now.Luckily US war planes don't face any real threat from ISIS apart from MANPADS and AAA. If we where dumb enough to attack Russian forces in Ukraine like what some idiots in congress wants we be in bad shape.

  2. How about send in 20 drones and take care the business.

  3. I just see this and can't help but thinking how effective a production variant of the x-47b would be in this situation. No air to air threat, limited AD/AA threat combined with long endurance for extended on station time. It would be perfect for this mission. Hang out close to where the enemy want to be and when they show up have a present wrapped and waiting… and of course by present I mean JDAM.

  4. <cite>"attacking ISIL may be more challenging than previous air attacks against fixed targets […] A dispersed group of fighters deliberately blending in with the civilian population and travelling in small groups in vehicles like pick-up trucks and armored vehicles might prove difficult or high-risk to pinpoint from the air with even the best precision-guided weaponry."</cite>

    I don't think the small units are the problem for the kurdish pershmerga forces. Afaik the IslamicState has also gained control over former iraki artillerie and even tanks and that's what 'making life hard' for the Kurds. In Syria the kurdisch PYD did hold up against IS successfully and they're now filling ranks in Iraq, but their problem seems to be the equipment. IS has gained modern Material in their advance but the kurds are fighting with some old AK47 – especially the iraqi-kurds seem to have invested more in infrastructure and society then in training and weaponery of their forces.
    I also think that effekt based warfare cannot be carried out in the given environment, because of the lack of information about the islamic state. If you want to hit their 5 rings you need to know who and where they are – but do we know about this?
    I would think we need soldiers on the ground to support the kurdish forces to stabilize the situation, but my country won't do that either … it's a big dilemma.
    What's happening in the iraq is an disgrace of humanity.

  5. For the past six months Obama has been strolling by the leaking dike on his way to play golf. Now he is touring the area in a row boat.

  6. The F-18 drivers where at it again today…..

    And the drones made it in also…..

    The Air Force must be chopping at the bit to get into the fight…
    They are doing the humanitarian flights though and that's MORE important….

    One assumes the Turkey has provided an air route in and out of Iraq….

    We'll see if the President opens up the targeting area

  7. were at it…..sorry about that…..

  8. Our problem: Lack of actionable intel. Lack of intelligence generally when we entered the country. Assymetry of threat vs our stand-off response. Absence of clear goal. “You can lead an Iraqi to water, but you can’t make him drink.” May be an accurate characterization of the American attempt at nationbuilding. How does anyone define our side vs their side without moving the line in the process of trying to draw it in Iraq?
    One problem is not just making our expensive war-fighting technology fit this problem. It is doing anything constructive without creating a worse problem. We forget that Iraq apparently has no reason of its own to exist, and that tribalism there trumps most everything else, except maybe, “if you can’t beat’em, join’em”. I’ve never been there, so I can be wrong. I’m sure we abandoned some of those that did help us when we had no viable long term solutions and left after no invitation for a long term military commitment. Islamic State is getting a country on the cheap. Will it be like Cambodia without the isolationism?

  9. The warthog (A-10) would be the best weapon to use right now! The Pentagon will not use them, though; 'cause it would be justification for keeping them around. With all of its redundant systems, and the titanium bath tub to protect the pilot, it is the ideal weapon system to use right now!

  10. For once we are on the same page hibeam. This is 6-8 weeks too late. Half the nation gone. Army shot to hell or quit. Tons of US equipment in ISIS hands. The USS Bush Battlegroup could have acted when you could have done real damage.This is like showing up to a house fire with a garden hose.

  11. What no Black Owl, Semi official Hornet PR spokesperson post yet? This raid should have him doing backflips.

  12. Unfortunately everyone is overlooking THE most important thing here. When do you say that bombing has won it all for you? Eventually you will have to put feet on the ground, and that is an escalation of our presence there, and for how long?

  13. A few hundred SFO on the ground in Afghanistan rolled up the Taliban with air power and a ragtag group of fighters known as the Northern Alliance. We will never do that again. It was way too effective and efficient. I think my ole dog Whomper could drive out ISIS with persistent drone surveillance and precision bombing backing him up.

  14. The Kurds are the logical immediate 'boots on the ground' since the Iraq army is holding Baghdada and IS suspect….

    Some more Spec Ops guys?
    But regular US Army?
    No support for that….

    But the US IS back in Iraq and I doubt they'll be asked to leave again…
    Maliki gone IS the solution….
    Airstrikes ISN't In the long run….

  15. All this ISIL business is the real reason we're so afraid of real democracy and freedom in the middle east.

    The threat that the people who come to power will not support America and instead kill anyone who does.

    It's gonna be a hundred years before the region settles down again.

  16. Someone seems to have affected a spine transplant in the Commander in Golf. Lets hope it lasts another two years until a man can ascend the throne.

  17. A scene playing out in burned out neighborhoods all across Iraq: "Look Daddy.. its Barack Obama in a shiny red fire truck"

  18. We should send the bill for these strikes and food dumps to that idiot al-Maliki that is the cause of all this!

  19. We need another Carrier over there and have the other ships start unloading the Tomahawks. The Subs can also unload a few! You are dealing with a Group that wants to "DESTROY" the USA in the future and "CHOP HEADS OFF".

  20. 2-810 warthogs, 2AC-130s,2 Apaches, 2-B52 bombers END OF STORY. Goodbye Isis and cry like a little bitch.

  21. Question: Why haven't any cruise missiles been used so far, especially as re-routing capabilities improve?

  22. Dropping bombs on distributed movements like ISIS has never worked except in conjunction with, and as support for, soldiers on the ground. It's a tactical version of what the Strategic Bombing Survey of 1947 showed – strategic bombing increased the will to resist of nations that were on the receiving end, including the British, the Germans, and the Japanese. The US could spend another trillion dollars dropping bombs on Iraq and end up with no good outcome.

  23. Cambodia anyone? Wonder if the progressives/liberals/communists will blame the bombing for the genocide that will follow when the US pulls up stakes and leaves?

    waste of time and my tax dollars. If it were about people we would be intervening in the congo.

    it is about israeli security so we are fighting.

  24. I guess that defueling carriers isn't such a good idea.

  25. I can see you guys know a lot about which tool to use to get the Job done. I know very little about all these great weapon systems. But here's the thing, I pray to god these Bas. don't get over here so the sooner they are stopped the better. They stay in business by expanding on fear. This is a very bad fire to put out, it has to be put out quickly at all cost before it gets bigger. To stop fires you must cut its oxygen or remove its fuel. Figure out the equivalent of these 2 properties, use whatever weapons system you want to help you and go to work. Bill the world, I'll pay my part of it.

  26. A-10's would be great for sorting those Isil vehicles,its not cost effective to drop a $ million dollar bomb on a pickup truck with two criminals in it. Just let that A10 gatling gun loose on them…game over.

  27. Then again the likes of Raytheon,Lockheed and the shareholders of all the big U.S defence manufacturers must clap their hands in glee when they see the military over-egg the pudding ordnance wise.And so we see how complex the situation becomes.The folks that REALLY influence Washington are not the American people,but American businessmen and politicians lobbying on their behalf.

  28. As I was saying before you deleted my comments..send a few A10 warthogs to Northern Iraq, that'll help out the Peshmerga.Its a complete waste of time and money equipping the Iraqi army as they have no stomach for a fight.Equip the Kurds and Peshmerga instead,even their women fight better than the Iraqi army.

  29. How about an update on U.S defence manufacturers share prices since the new Iraqi air campaign?

  30. Good to see the Australian Air Force may be getting into the fray,more countries should assist after all its not Americas sole job to sort this stuff out.

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