U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets are flying surveillance missions over Iraq from the U.S. aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush stationed in the Persian Gulf, Pentagon officials said.
The fighters are flying missions designed to observe movements of the militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. ISIS now controls portions of Iraq and threatens to make further advances into Baghdad.
The F/A-18’s targeting pods have electro-optical cameras that will allow U.S. and Iraqi commanders to monitor the militant group’s movements, supply lines and weapons caches.
The fighters are also likely watching the Iraqi borders to check whether fighters, equipment or arms are being shipped from ISIS strongholds in Syria, said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute.
The F/A-18 missions will also help pilots become familiar with the terrain and potential targets should they be called upon to deliver air strikes. Along these lines, many experts and observers have made the point that targeting small, mobile groups of ISIS fighters on-the-move in pick-up trucks might be a challenging task for fighter jets.
The ISIS fighters will not provide an easily identifiable fixed target from the sky, but may prove difficult for even the best sensors and precision weaponry to pinpoint. Of course, the U.S. has gained experience in this task over the past ten years trying to identify insurgents in Iraq and Taliban in Afghanistan.
Goure questioned why the U.S. has chosen the F/A-18 to fly these missions opposed to America’s drone fleet.
“We’ve got Predators, we’ve got Reapers. We’ve spent years developing a vast and redundant set of ISR capabilities to do precisely this mission,” Goure said.
The Bush is joined in the Arabian Gulf by an amphibious transport dock, the Mesa Verde, which is carrying 550 Marines and five MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The Osprey’s could prove critical if an evacuation of U.S. personnel is ordered from any part of Iraq.