Army Builds Recon, Targeting Air Fleet June 23, 2008 International Herlad Tribune <!-- Uncomment this when the Jive comments functionality is available --> Ever since the Army lost its warplanes to a newly independent Air Force after World War II, Soldiers have depended on the sister service for help from the sky, from bombing and strafing to transport and surveillance. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have frayed the relationship, with Army officers increasingly vocal with complaints that the Air Force is not pulling its weight. In Afghanistan, Army officers have complained that the Air Force has complicated their jobs with bombing missions gone awry that have killed innocent civilians. In Iraq, Army officers say the Air Force has often been out of touch, fulfilling only half of their requests for the most sophisticated surveillance aircraft that ground commanders say are needed to find roadside bombs and track down insurgents. The Air Force responds that it has only a limited number of remotely piloted Predators and other advanced surveillance aircraft, so priorities for assigning them must be set by senior commanders at the headquarters in Baghdad working with counterparts at the air force's regional command in Qatar. There are more than 14,000 airmen performing tasks on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Air Force civil engineers replacing Army construction engineers. But now in Iraq, the Army has quietly decided to try going it alone for the important surveillance mission, organizing an all- Army surveillance and targeting unit in Iraq that represents a new move by the service toward self-sufficiency and away from joint operations. Senior aides to Defense Secretary Robert Gates say that he has shown keen interest in the Army initiative - much to the frustration of embattled Air Force leaders - as a potential way to improve battlefield surveillance. The work of the new aviation battalion was initially kept secret, but Army officials involved in its planning say it has been exceptionally active, using remotely piloted surveillance aircraft to call in Apache helicopter strikes with missiles and heavy machine gun fire that have killed more than 3,000 adversaries in the last year and led to the capture of almost 150 insurgent leaders. The Army aviation task force became fully operational last July with headquarters at Camp Speicher, in the north-central city of Tikrit, and focuses its efforts on insurgents planting roadside bombs. But it has also located and attacked insurgents in battles with American and Iraqi troops and has supported missions of the top- secret Special Operations units assigned to capture or kill the most high-value targets in Iraq. The battalion is called Task Force Odin - the name is that of the chief god of Norse mythology, but it also is an acronym for "observe, detect, identify and neutralize." The task force of about 300 people and 25 aircraft is a collection of surveillance, communications and attack systems, a mash-up of manned and remotely piloted vehicles, commercial aircraft with high-tech infrared sensors strapped to the fuselage, along with attack helicopters and infantry. The Army cobbled together small civilian aircraft, including the Beech C-12, and placed advanced reconnaissance sensors on board. Also assigned to the task force are small, medium and larger remotely piloted Army surveillance vehicles, including the Warrior and Shadow, with infrared cameras for night operations and full- motion video cameras. All are linked by radio to Apache attack helicopters, with Hellfire missiles and 30-mm guns, and to infantry units in armored vehicles. Civilian casualties are always a risk in air raids, particularly those attacking bomb-placing teams that operate in cities and villages. Army officials declined to say whether they believed the casualties from the new Army raids included innocent civilians, but they sought to preempt some criticism by screening an aerial surveillance video that they said showed the precise nature of the raids. The video showed an insurgent who had escaped attack and hidden in a courtyard a few feet from a grazing mule. It then showed Apache helicopter fire killing the insurgent, while the mule was left still grazing beside the corpse. In contrast to Predators, which are assigned by the top headquarters for missions all across Iraq, Task Force Odin is on call for commanders at the level of brigade, usually 4,000 to 5,000 Soldiers, and below, a conscious effort by the Army to be responsive to needs of smaller combat units in direct contact with adversaries - and a clear sign of rivaling concepts with the Air Force. Task Force Odin was created on orders of General Richard Cody, the Army's outgoing vice chief of staff, as a way to improve the detection of roadside bombs before they explode and to strike more adversaries more safely, from a stand-off distance. Thus far, not a single helicopter or piloted surveillance airplane has been lost in the unit's missions, officials said. Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Gates "wants to make sure that we are looking at not just top-down solutions, but ground-up solutions. We need to pay attention to anything that works." Strains between the services have surfaced in the years since the military undertook the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Army and Marine Corps officers in Afghanistan have complained that Air Force pilots flying attack missions in support of ground operations do not come in as low as their navy and marine counterparts. Instances of civilian casualties from bombing and missile attacks have increased tensions among local populations, which have to be eased by ground commanders, adding to their burden of winning hearts and minds in the counterinsurgency efforts. "We are supporting the Army as best we can," Michael Wynne, the departing Air Force secretary, said Friday. He said that as the Army and Marine Corps increased ground forces in Iraq as part of the so-called troop surge over the past year, the Air Force quadrupled its number of sorties and increased its bombing 10-fold. The number of surveillance flights by Predators and the larger Reaper vehicle over Iraq and Afghanistan has doubled since January of last year. Army officers who are promoting the new concept have shown senior Pentagon officials classified video clips intended to advertise the service's increasing go-it-alone capability. One clip from a remotely piloted vehicle shows an insurgent using palm fronds to smooth dirt over a bomb he had buried late at night along a major convoy route. Moments later, he disappeared in 30-mm fire from an Apache alerted by the remotely piloted Army surveillance craft overhead. The Army is asking for money to create a similar unit in Afghanistan in the next six months. <!-- --> © Copyright 2008 International Herlad Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.