The commander on board the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier overseeing the ongoing airstrikes in Iraq said Navy F/A-18s have flown at least 30 bombing missions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, targets.
Thus far, Navy planes have destroyed ISIL mobile artillery positions, convoys and other strategic targets including vehicles and equipment captured by ISIL, said Navy Rear Adm. DeWolfe Miller, Commander, Carrier Strike Group Two told reporters by phone from the Arabian Gulf.
The Navy F/A-18s are configured with a host of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons such as the GBU-54 500-pound laser-guided bombs dropped in Iraq. Laser-guided bombs can be guided by a laser-designation from the air or nearby ground forces. The GBU-54s dropped in Iraq are known as Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions or LJDAMS, which rely on GPS guidance to pinpoint their targets.
The GBU 54 is a 581-pound glide bomb with a range of up to 15 nautical miles, service officials said. The weapon uses semi-active laser guidance as well as GPS and inertial navigation systems.
Navy officials said standard laser guidance packages on bombs prove exceptionally accurate in clear conditions against stationary targets. However, with significant amounts of environmental factors such as airborne dust, smoke, fog, or cloud cover, the guidance packages can have difficulty maintaining "lock" on the laser designation while pursuing moving or maneuvering targets, officials explained.
This is why the GBU-54 was engineered. It is a dual-mode precision-guided bomb designed to destroyed fixed and re-locatable or moving targets, Navy officials said.
Miller said the intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) missions flown over Iraq in recent months by F/A-18s helped familiarize pilots with ISIL targets and contributed to the success thus far of the attacks.
"Almost every flight that we do is involved with non-traditional ISR," Miller said.
The Bush carrier strike group, which has flown more than 1,000 sorties over Iraq in recent months, shifted this past June from missions supporting Afghanistan operations to its present role in Iraq. Prior to conducting missions in Iraq, the USS Bush flew 1,300 sorties over Afghanistan, Miller said.
"What we've shown throughout this deployment is flexibility, adaptability and the persistent nature of naval forces that are able to transition. Naval forces are where you need us when you need us with the capability that you need," Miller said.
The attacks on ISIL by the U.S. Navy have involved F/A-18 fighter jets as well as E2 Hawkeye surveillance planes and EA-6B Prowlers for electronic warfare, Capt. Dan L. Cheever, Commander, Carrier Air Wing Eight, told reporters.
Two helicopter squadrons are assisting the effort as well, Cheever said.
Navy officials said the strike missions have been successful but would not comment on operational warfare questions such as whether ISIL has been firing anti-aircraft artillery back at U.S. planes during strike missions.
"We can handle whatever they have," Miller said.
At the moment, the USS Bush carrier strike group includes the USS Philippine Sea, a cruiser and two destroyers, the USS Roosevelt and the USS O'Kane, Navy officials said.
The carrier strike group is joined by an Amphibious Ready Group also in the Arabian Gulf consisting of the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship and the USS Gunston Hall, a dock landing ship, Navy officials said.
The USS Bush has completed six months out of a planned nine-month deployment, however the carrier could wind up staying longer if bombing missions continue, Miller said.
"We are a sustainable force and we will stay out here as long as we're needed," he said.