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Marine close air support hammers terrorists in Fallujah with precision JDAM

Navy NewsStand

Story Identification #: 2004111032558
Story by Cpl. Paul Leicht

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov 10, 2004) -- With a massive Marine air and ground offensive underway in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, Marine close air support continues to put high-tech steel on target with more accurate conventional weapons against suspected terrorist strongholds.

Flying missions day and night for weeks, the fixed wing aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are ensuring battlefield success on the front lines with the help of Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

"JDAM is a joint Air Force/Navy program intended to develop a more accurate, autonomously guided conventional munitions capability," said Maj. Mike Sexton, aviation ordnance watch officer, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3. "This system is specifically designed to perform in adverse weather conditions, from low to high altitudes. The JDAM itself is a guidance tail kit (attached to the bomb) that can be added to existing general purpose bombs and it also consists of an internal navigation system which will be updated with Global Positioning System information as well as a flight control system to steer the bomb."

The JDAM is a family of specialized munitions designed for different types of targets found on the battlefield.

"The JDAMs we employ range from 500 to 2,000 pounds, so depending on the mission we can get the most bang for our buck," said Sexton, a Tenn. native. "There are two types of 2,000 pound JDAM GBU-31 warheads: the Mk-84 used for soft or hard targets where collateral damage is not a concern, such as a warehouse or a hangar sitting on the edge of a town with no houses in the vicinity; and the BLU-109 'bunker buster' designed to take out hard targets by penetrating up to four to six feet of reinforced concrete. The bunker buster is the ideal weapon against hardened shelters found throughout Iraq and used as caves by terrorists in Afghanistan."

F/A-18D Hornets with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 have recently employed GBU-31s during air strikes in Fallujah with great effect, said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Garcia, ordnance non-commissioned officer in charge, VMFA(AW)-242, and a native of San Antonio Texas.

The newest JDAM weapon in the Marine Corps arsenal is the 500-pound GBU-38, used with either the Mk-82 or BLU-111 warhead.

"Third MAW stood up its first squadron of GBU-38 capable aircraft here during Operation Iraqi Freedom II," explained Sexton. "Along with manufacturer experts to load the appropriate aircraft software, the GBU-38 kits arrived on the front lines at Al Asad directly from the factory and they have become the preferred precision guided munitions for fixed wing aircraft in the urban close air support environment."

The GBU-38 produces the smallest amount of collateral damage and can be employed in all weather conditions, but laser guided precision guided munitions are not as accurate during inclement and/or cloudy weather, added Sexton.

"The GPS guided JDAM can virtually work in any clime and place," said Sexton. "Because of the compact locations of the houses in the cities of Iraq this weapon has been used primarily on houses, barriers, road blocks and other structures within the confines of Fallujah and Ramadi with minimal to no collateral damage."

The 1,000-pound GBU-32 also has two different warheads, the Mk-83 for soft or BLU-110 for hard targets, and is used against mainly medium to large structures such as factories and mansions.

"The GBU-32 is a hard target penetration bomb," said Sexton. "The first time a shore based 3rd MAW squadron employed this weapon in a combat scenario during Operation Southern Watch at Al Jabber Air Base in 2000, and was used to hit anti-aircraft guns and sites."

As the campaign to eliminate insurgent anti-Iraqi forces throughout Iraq continues, the need for precision guided munitions will continue in a combat environment where collateral damage is a primary concern for coalition forces.

"So far for OIF II, 3rd MAW has dropped more than 500,000 tons of ordnance, including several dozen JDAM GBU-31s and GBU-38s, but this number is likely to be much higher by the end of operations," said Sexton.

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