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Navy planes take small-arms fire during Iraq airstrikes

Aug. 20, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
An F/A-18C Hornet takes off for Iraq from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush on Aug. 14 in the Persian Gulf. Islamic State militants have shot at some Navy aircraft with small arms, but to little effect. (Mohammed al-Shaikh / Getty Images)
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Aircraft from the carrier George H.W. Bush have struck about 30 targets in Iraq since the U.S. military began pounding the insurgents who are destabilizing Iraq, Navy officials said Wednesday.

Islamic State militants have shot at the Navy aircraft with small arms to little effect, said a Navy official who spoke on background to discuss ongoing operations.

The official also said Navy aircraft have been involved in multiple “show of force” missions.

Capt. D.L. Cheever, head of Carrier Air Wing 8, said that the wing’s F/A-18s, EA-6B Prowlers and E-2C Hawkeyes were all performing overflight missions in Iraq, but refused to answer questions about the small-arms fire from IS militants in a Wednesday conference call with reporters. The pilots have dropped Joint Direct Attack Munitions for precision strikes on the IS militants.

Small arms don’t pose a significant threat to fighters, but are concerning, said an F/A-18 pilot with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, who spoke on background because he was not authorized to discuss operations.

“It doesn’t really compare to a surface-to-air missile or [anti-aircraft guns], but a bullet in the right place on an aircraft can do serious damage — it has happened before,” the Hornet pilot said. “But a bunch of guys, not trained, firing AK-47s in the air, the probability of it happening is pretty low.”

A show-of-force mission, the pilot said, usually means a low pass or a simulated bombing run.

“If there are troops in contact, it’s often difficult to go kinetic because of the danger to your own guys,” the pilot said. “But it can get the enemy to go running or at least get their head down, which can have an immediate impact on the situation.”

The Bush carrier was forced to break off overflight in Afghanistan and travel to the northern Persian Gulf to perform the missions in Iraq.

Rear Adm. DeWolfe Miller, head of Carrier Strike Group 8, said the Bush would be on station as long as needed.

“We are a sustainable force,” he said. “We’ll be prioritized and used as Central Command desires. I have no idea how long it will be or where it will be.”

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