Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Another own goal

It is interesting to see how The Daily Telegraphso jealous to protect its own property – displays no compunction about nicking from the USAF a page-wide photograph of an AC-130 to illustrate its Somali story, and publishing it in its newspaper without even the hint of an acknowledgement.

But the pi├Ęce de resistance from today’s newspaper (print edition) is an "analysis" from David Blair, the "diplomatic correspondent", who writes:

An AC-130 Spectre gunship carried out the strike. This large aircraft, modelled on the Hercules cargo plane, is stuffed with cannon and machine-guns. The AC-130 is designed to saturate a large area with gunfire, hitting every square yard in the target zone with multiple rounds.

So this was the very opposite of a surgical strike. Anyone in the path of the gunship, which departed from the US military base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, would have been killed.
To give it its due, the newspaper does allow comments on the online edition of its story, and the first two up (yesterday, just after midday) read thus:

Mr Blair is factually incorrect; Spectres are quite capable of 'surgical' strikes technically - check out the AC-130's capabilities via google or wikipedia if you doubt that - but we have no way of knowing yet the precise nature of these missions. Mr Blair is welcome to accuse America of an 'indiscriminate' approach but should understand that this makes him an 'indiscrimnate' journalist whose assertions are unsupported by fact.

Posted by michael schrage mit security studies program on January 9, 2007 1:50 PM

This sentence makes no sense. "So this was the very opposite of a surgical strike. Anyone in the path of the gunship, which departed from the US military base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, would have been killed."

The gunship was not shooting from the moment of takeoff. Instead it flew to the target area, located its target and then dealt with it. The AC 130 is a very precise weapon. Its 40 mm cannons can place a shell within two feet of its target. How is that not surgical? This was not a recreation of Bomber Harris.

Posted by Matt on January 9, 2007 1:48 PM
Following through on one of the main defence websites, one also reads:

The AC-130H Spectre gunship's primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and armed reconnaissance. Other missions include perimeter and point defense, escort, landing, drop and extraction zone support, forward air control, limited command and control, and combat search and rescue.

These heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended periods, at night and in adverse weather.
That latter phrasing - "surgical firepower or area saturation" comes straight from the official USAF website.

And you don't have to take this account as gospel. You can read any number of accounts of how an AC130 has intervened in a combat situation, and how close it can work to friendly forces. You can talk, as I have done, to the pilots, and you can look at the multi-million dollar targeting systems. This, after all, is one of the most expensive aircraft on the US inventory, the bulk of the cost made up from the hugely sophisticated targeting systems.

The adverse comments on its own website came in more than sufficient time for the paper to have pulled a highly innaccurate - to say nothing of libellous - piece from its print copy, but it was not to be. Once again, The Telegraph scored an own goal. It needs to raise its game. The low grade crap it is producing these days would not even pass muster in a comic.


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