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Target Iran - Air Strikes

One potential military option that would be available to the United States includes the use of air strikes on Iranian weapons of mass destruction and missile facilities.

In all, there are perhaps two dozen suspected nuclear facilities in Iran. The 1000-megawatt nuclear plant Bushehr would likely be the target of such strikes. According to the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, the spent fuel from this facility would be capable of producing 50 to 75 bombs. Also, the suspected nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak will likely be targets of an air attack.

American air strikes on Iran would vastly exceed the scope of the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osiraq nuclear center in Iraq, and would more resemble the opening days of the 2003 air campaign against Iraq. Using the full force of operational B-2 stealth bombers, staging from Diego Garcia or flying direct from the United States, possibly supplemented by F-117 stealth fighters staging from al Udeid in Qatar or some other location in theater, the two-dozen suspect nuclear sites would be targeted.

Military planners could tailor their target list to reflect the preferences of the Administration by having limited air strikes that would target only the most crucial facilities in an effort to delay or obstruct the Iranian program or the United States could opt for a far more comprehensive set of strikes against a comprehensive range of WMD related targets, as well as conventional and unconventional forces that might be used to counterattack against US forces in Iraq.

McCain: "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran"

Available US Forces

Many aircraft are still in the region supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The United States had aircraft at multiple locations throughout the Persian Gulf, including Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Diego Garcia. While the number of aircraft in the region has declined significantly since the end of major hostilities in Iraq, the United States continues to have some number of F-15Es, F-16s, naval aircraft, and some unidentified number of heavy bombers in the region.

Information regarding how many aircraft are actually in the Persian Gulf region is scant as units are returning to the United States and it is not clear if units are being sent as replacements. By mid-June 2003 there were no longer any AWACs in region and stealth aircraft had long since departed for the United States. Insufficient information regarding available aircraft makes it impossible to predict how many Joint Direct Attack Munition capable aircraft were available for strikes and how many potential aim points this would provide to mission planners.

Redeploying US forces to the region would take a small amount of time, but the absence of significant numbers of stealth aircraft, early warning aircraft, and other assets by September 2004 was a possible indicator that the United States was not actively considering the air strike option. The US had postured a number of strike aircraft to attack North Korea during the first half of 2003, and might make similar preparations in anticipation of a strike against Iran. Alternately, the US might wish to retain the element of surprise, and use heavy bomber forces staging directly from the United States.

Since the end of major hostilities in Iraq the United States has typically kept one aircraft carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf region in support of Iraqi Freedom. Tomahawk cruise missiles deployed on cruisers, destroyers, and submarines could also be used to strike fixed locations. A Carrier Strike Group would typically have about 500 verticle launch system cells, which could mean that roughly 250 Tomahawks would be available for tasking.

CBS News reported on 18 December 2006 that the Bush administration has decided to ramp up the naval presence in the Persian Gulf to send a message to Tehran. CBS reported that an additional aircraft carrier would be added to the Gulf contingent in January 2007. A Pentagon official called the report "premature" and denied knowledge of changes in deployments in the Gulf. The New York Times reported 20 December 2006 that the Bremerton-based aircraft carrier and its strike group could leave weeks earlier than planned as part of a move to increase the U.S. military presence in and around the Middle East. Cmdr. Dave Werner, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, said that no decision had been made about changing the level of naval forces in the region.

Moving up the Stennis' departure date in January 2006 allows a longer overlap with USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the carrier currently in the Persian Gulf. Eisenhower deployed 01 October 2006, and could remain on station into March 2007. According to the New York Times story, the move was intended as " ... a display of military resolve toward Iran that will come as the United Nations continues to debate possible sanctions against the country ... Doubling the number of carriers in the region offers commanders the flexibility of either keeping both strike groups in the Gulf or keeping one near Iran while placing a second carrier group outside the Gulf, where it would be in position to fly combat patrols over Afghanistan or cope with growing violence in the Horn of Africa. ... Senior American officers said the increase in naval power should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased and that Iranian leaders might well call the growing presence provocative."

Air power "persistence" is essential. During normal cyclic flight operations, a pilot spends a significant amount of time transiting to and from target areas. With the enhanced capabilities the CTF provides, by alternating air plan flight cycles, the CTF is able to maintain a nearly constant air presence over the targeted areas. It is difficult for one CVW to conduct flight operations for much more than about 12 hours before having to stop. However, with the combined striking power of two CVWs, the CTF is able to conduct air operations over a continuous 24-hour cycle. During the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was operating with USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) off the coast of Afghanistan. When the order to launch air strikes arrived, together, both CVWs flew 24-hours a day.

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