Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Air Force in A-stan: Still Dropping Bombs

One of Moody's A-10Cs at Bagram AB, Afghanistan, 2009. (Photo by Nathan Hodge) Hi-res

By Nathan Hodge
August 4, 2009 | 3:14 pm
Wired News

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The sign on the door makes it plain: "The mission is an 18 yr old with a rifle. All else is support."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal made clear in his recent tactical directive that commanders should weigh requests for close air support very carefully. But as that sign on the door at the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing in Bagram makes clear, the U.S. Air Force is still in the business of dropping bombs and firing cannon rounds.

Take, for instance, the A-10 Thunderbolt IIs of the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron of Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Since the unit arrived in Afghanistan in March, it set a record number of combat flying hours for the A-10, a lumbering, ungainly-looking aircraft affectionately known as the Warthog. The squadron has around 12,200 hours under its belt in Afghanistan, and its aircraft have dropped hundreds of 500-pound bomb. Another telling statistic: The Warthogs have fired 54,000 high explosive shells from their 30mm Gatling guns (pictured here).

A point of trivia: The 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron traces its roots to the American Volunteer Group, a.k.a., Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers, a wing of the Chinese nationalist air force that fought the Japanese prior to the entry of the United States into World War II. The Flying Tigers were technically employees of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, an antecedent of sorts to today's "private military contractors," but after Pearl Harbor, the group was disbanded and succeeded by a regular military outfit.

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