WASHINGTON -- U.S. fighters, surveillance, supply and refueling aircraft have flown more than 1,500 patrols, or sorties, over Iraq since President Barack Obama authorized air strikes Aug. 8, according to the U.S. Central Command.
U.S. Air Force and Navy fighters, drones and bombers accounted for about 600 sorties, conducting 96 attacks against militant ground forces, the command said. The other approximately 900 sorties include intelligence, surveillance aircraft, Air Force aerial refueling tankers, humanitarian transports and Awacs command aircraft.
The figures underscore the scope of operations that are enabling U.S. combat aircraft to loiter over an area for perhaps hours as they observe, classify, verify and then attack militants’ positions.
The sorties and munitions figures also give investors in defense stocks a sense of how much has been spent on flying time and ordnance that will have to be replaced in future defense budgets. Boeing Co., for example, makes the GBU-54 laser- and satellite-guided bomb dropped by Navy fighters, while Raytheon Co. makes the AGM-65 air-to-ground missile that’s been used by the Air Force.
In all, U.S. aircraft have conducted about 1,508 sorties through yesterday, according to Central Command data provided to Bloomberg News, including 87 yesterday.
Air Force fighters, bombers and drones dropped 116 bombs and missiles while Navy fighters flying off the USS George W. Bush have dropped 31 munitions, the command said. The Air Force has flown F-16s and F-15E fighters and B-1B bombers; the Navy F/A-18 fighters and EA-6B Prowler electronic-jamming aircraft.
The strikes are part of a U.S. effort Obama announced to halt the advance of militants calling themselves the Islamic State who have rampaged through OPEC’s No. 2 oil producer, seizing border posts, beheading foes and targeting a dam whose destruction could flood areas near Baghdad and Mosul.
Of the 96 airstikes executed through yesterday, 62 were in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces who successfully recovered the Mosul Dam from Islamic State forces. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby last week called the airstrikes “critical” to assisting the ground offensive.
Pentagon official acknowledge that airstrikes by themselves won’t roll back the ground gains made by the Islamic State.