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Allies Find New Role for F-16 as They Root Out Iraqis

February 13, 1991

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DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The allied air war is employing new tactics that include forming ″killing boxes″ to methodically pulverize Iraqi forces and using fighter-bombers as observation planes to pinpoint targets.

American pilots flying A-10s and F-16s against targets in Kuwait on Tuesday said the innovations have improved the effectiveness of the air assault. They said it had been getting hard to find targets because of so much debris from previous raids.

The hunt for targets has been complicated by big pits of burning oil that have been spewing smoke, obscuring about a third of Kuwait’s territory, said Maj. Vince Wisniewski, an F-16 pilot.

At the Pentagon, Rear Adm. Mike McConnell said there may be more than 50 oil field fires. He said Iraqis are suspected of placing charges on many of the wells, but allied bombing may be responsible for some blazes.

″There is an advantage from their point of view of starting a fire. It creates smoke ... and make it difficult for us to find targets,″ McConnell said.

The U.S. Air Force also has been organizing teams to provide close air support for Saudi, Syrian, Egyptian and Kuwaiti ground forces, said Lt. Col. Marin Simek, a U.S. air liaison officer.

One such unit said it had successfully conducted its first combat mission on an Iraqi probing force last week. No details were released.

During the past week, the allies have divided Kuwait and southern Iraq into a series of rectangles each several square miles, and have been attacking each sector methodically.

″We’ll hit the boxes where we think targets are today,″ said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jessie Morimoto, chief of forward-operating intelligence at an air base in northern Saudi Arabia.

The pilots, who are based far to the south and refuel and rearm their A-10 Thunderbolts and F-16 Fighting Falcons in Dhahran, praised the new system. Destruction of the Iraqi army seems more methodical and pilots have to spend less time over enemy territory hunting for targets.

When the allied planes have destroyed the artillery, tanks and radar sites in one box, they gradually move to new sectors, said one pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday, each F-16 carried four 2,000-pound bombs per sortie. These weapons are used for ″area denial,″ destroying all the targets - such as tanks - in a large area.

The A-10s and F-16s fly more of their missions by daylight. F-15E Strike Eagle fighter-bombers, also based to the south, take over at night. They, too, have been working their way across Kuwait, section by section, using radar and other electronics to find targets.

A key element in the new approach is the use of F-16s as forward air controllers (FACs) to circle over a ″killing box″ and direct the other planes to targets, the pilots said.

″The FACs are what’s saving us,″ Capt. Dewey Gay of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. It was ″hit or miss before″ finding targets, and pilots were wasting increasing amounts of time looking, he said.

Each forward air controller keeps track of targets in a box selected for the day and advises newly arriving attack planes.

Gay said he and his partner were assigned eight tanks parked in a C-shaped embankment as their first target of the day. He said he and the other pilot believed their eight bombs had each hit a different tank.

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