Latest posts by Rick Francona (see all)
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- “De-escalation” Zones in Syria – Should We Be Sceptical? - May 12, 2017
It has taken a long time, but the first six F-16 fighters of what I hope will be a sizable contingent of American combat aircraft arrived at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey on 09 August 2015. The base is just 96 kilometres from the Syrian border and from front line positions of the so-called Islamic State, or what is usually referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Here is the public announcement from the United States European Command (EUCOM) that accompanied the above photo:
Earlier today, the United States Air Force deployed a small detachment of six F-16 Fighting Falcons, support equipment, and about 300 personnel to Incirlik Air Base – Turkey in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
The detachment is from the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base, Italy. This follows Turkey’s decision to host the deployment of U.S. aircraft conducting counter-ISIL operations. The United States and Turkey, as members of the 60-plus-nation coalition, are committed to the fight against ISIL in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region.
I have been encouraging the Department of Defence for over a year to deploy American combat aircraft to Turkish air bases – and chastising our Turkish NATO allies for not allowing it sooner. The Turks changed their minds two weeks ago. See my article on that, Turks to allow coalition access to Turkish air base – finally (23 July 2015).
If we want to take the fight to ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital and its main strongholds in northern Syria, Turkey’s air bases are well positioned for air operations. Pilots can now fly to their targets from bases only 120 to 320 kilometres away, rather than the long flights from Gulf bases or Jordan at least 1280 kilometres away. Reaction time to emerging targets or critical situations can now be measured in minutes rather than hours.
While we all welcome the Turkish government’s decision to allow American forces to use Incirlik, and we applaud the EUCOM decision to finally deploy six fighters, there are some concerns and questions still unanswered.
I note in the photograph that F-16’s deployed with the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. I hope this means that these aircraft will be used, and used quickly, for strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. If they are there as some sort of quick reaction force to be used only in cases of emergency, or limited by Turkish authorities on what targets can be engaged, then it is a waste of an effective combat asset.
Now that we have “bomb-droppers” close to ISIS positions, are we finally ready to step up the up-to-now anemic pace of air operations? With F-16’s at Incirlik, supported by aerial refuelling tankers, we can put aircraft with full weapons loads and full fuel tanks over northern Syria at will. That, of course, requires the political will to use the combat power now just 96 kilometres north of the target area.
There are also four Predator reconnaissance drones and two armed Predator strike drones at Incirlik. I hope that the drones and F-16s will be used together – find the targets and destroy them immediately. This will require adjustments to the cumbersome, self-defeating rules of engagement currently in place.
This is a deployment of six F-16’s – with a lot of media releases by EUCOM. While the F-16 is an extremely capable fourth-generation fighter aircraft, six aircraft will not change the situation. Normally the US Air Force deploys in squadron strength – 24 aircraft. I hope to see follow-on deployments to bring the American contingent at Incirlik up to wing strength – at least two squadrons. The initial deployment may be limited by the Turks or by logistics considerations.
Now that the Turks granted American access to the base, will the Turks participate in strikes against ISIS? It appears to many of us that the Turks are more concerned about airstrikes on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets than hitting ISIS targets. That may have been the price for American access to Incirlik.
Bottom line: This is a welcome deployment – it could set the stage for drastic improvements to the thus-far mediocre air campaign. If we are going to take the fight to ISIS, Incirlik is a good venue to do just that, bringing in more combat aircraft – F-15E, A-10, AC-130, etc. Then unleash the pilots from the White House-dictated obstructive ROE. ISIS has yet to meet real airpower – now would be a good time to introduce them to it.