Written by admin on Friday, December 23rd, 2011
On December 18th, the final convoy of American troops left Iraq, signaling an end to the war. While many people celebrate the return of troops to native soil, the recent events in Libya demonstrated that sending troops to Iraq may have been in vain.
That is not to say that what the troops did in Iraq was meaningless or that their presence was unnecessary – that is not the implication at all. The Libyan conflict has shown that, in some situations, a strong air force presence might be able to replace ground forces.
The unique political situation in Libya made it difficult for NATO forces to deploy soldiers; instead of using the most traditional approach, they opted for close air support. This strategy, also called CAS, uses precision-based weapons paired with lengthy and accurate surveillance to ensure that the aircraft cause little to no collateral damage.
In modern urban conflict, where enemies often interact with civilians in a city, it can be difficult to avoid civilian casualties. Ground forces are optimal in these situations because the precision and versatility of trained soldiers help to ensure that civilians stay out of harm’s way. With the specialized systems of CAS aircraft, however, many pilots can be as discerning and accurate as ground forces.
Of course, utilizing CAS requires an infrastructure to support frequent aircraft deployment. One of the reasons that NATO succeeded in utilizing CAS was that they could use a nearby air base in Sicily. Unless future conflicts emerge in locations near friendly air bases or near a location that aircraft carriers can easily reach, CAS would not be a viable alternative to ground forces.
While maintaining a strong army will undoubtedly be an important component of the future of the U.S. military, the Libyan conflict raises questions about the potential of the Air Force. Training pilots in CAS tactics might actually be preferable to deploying troops in urban settings.
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