U.S. A-10s, Tankers Fly
Syria Missions 24/7 From Incirlik
By Cheryl Pellerin, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Washington D.C. — (DoD
News) — 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 A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft and
KC-135 Stratotankers -- 350 to 375 of them associated with A-10 maintenance or
Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy, 447th Air Expeditionary Group Commander stands
in front of one of the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft under his command at
Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey, May 23, 2016.
“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
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.
The A-10 missions are usually autonomous, McCarthy said.
In a hangar off the flightline at Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey,
Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, greets
representatives from a Marine Corps EA-6 Prowler Squadron, a KC-135 tanker crew,
and several aircraft maintainers, May 23, 2016. Votel was accompanied by 447th
Air Expeditionary Group Commander Air Force Col. Sean McCarthy.
“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,”
“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
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
“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 said.
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
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.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)
Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel