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Congressman Says Ground War Will Also Emphasize U.S. Superiority

February 17, 1991

ON BOARD THE USS MIDWAY IN THE GULF (AP) _ Warplanes used to flush Iraqis from dug-in positions during a possible ground war will face high risks from anti-aircraft fire, a visiting congressman said Sunday.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who heads the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, toured the USS Midway aircraft carrier as pilots prepared for their role in a possible ground war against Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

The congressman and the pilots described a mission more dangerous than past bombing raids in the Persian Gulf War because it will require flying much closer to anti-aircraft batteries than during the recent bombing raids.

″We have to flush them out. We can use our technical superiority once we flush them out of the hole,″ Murtha said.

″At the same time, they have to come up out of the hole or they are of no value,″ he said.

Murtha said aircraft such as the F/A-18 fighter-bomber could be effective in knocking out Iraqi ground forces once they were forced out of their dug-in positions.

The missions also would increase the risk of pilots hitting their own troops.

For the pilots on the carriers Midway, Theodore Roosevelt, Ranger and America, the start of the ground war will mean a much higher tempo of flights ″over the beach.″ The ships are part of a 115-vessel allied force in the gulf.

The ship-based airplanes would be used to knock out specific enemy artillery positions harassing American troops and to hit Iraqi supply lines as well as to continue the campaign against strategic sites in southern Iraq.

″That’s the worst thing you could ever do. It’s not like hitting bridges or chemical plants from high overhead. They are going to be close,″ said Lt. Mike Vance, 28, of Daytona Beach, Fla., an F/A-18 pilot.

″There is no target worth bombing your own guys for,″ he said.

Pilots follow a procedure to avoid hitting their own troops, but it is classified. If there is any doubt about hitting friendly forces, they pull off.

Pilots said published reports that they fly underneath the shellfire from the battleships offshore are not true.

They said significant anti-aircraft artillery fire and surface-to-air missiles are still fired at them.

″There are so many pieces ... you can’t just take all of them out. You know where they are and you avoid them. Sometimes the targets will take you through their envelopes. You have to rely on basic avoidance,″ said Lt. Reggie Carpenter, 27, of Cherryville, N.C., pilot of an A-6 medium attack bomber.

The threat should diminish at some points in the Kuwaiti theater not covered by anti-aircraft artillery, which the pilots call ″triple A.″

The element of fear has not diminished in the month the pilots have been flying in the war, said Carpenter.

″About five minutes before you get to the target you get the same cotton mouth, the same dry mouth, the same jittery nerves. It’s just a tense period when everything clams up. Your IQ goes to zero. You just react. It’s five minutes of sheer terror,″ said Lt. Craig Crotteau, 29, of Rice Lake, Wis., an F/A-18 pilot.

But some pilots said they are getting more experienced at what to avoid.

″The first night we were chucking and jiving on everything that came up. Now we’re just looking for the big stuff that can hurt you,″ said Vance.

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