Streetwise Professor

April 12, 2015

The War on Excavators

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:34 am

Once upon a time, American pilots adorned their aircraft with enemy insignia to commemorate their aerial victories.

Here’s WWII Europe air ace Gabby Gabreski in his P-47 Thunderbolt:


Here’s Pappy Boyington in his F-4U Corsair:


The tradition continued in Korea, here with Ralph Parr in his F-86 Super Saber:


Vietnam too: here’s Robin Olds (an all around badass, by the way) in his F-4 Phantom II:


The fighter jocks were not the only ones. Bombers commemorated their missions with nose art:


I wonder if, and how, pilots participating in the ongoing campaign in Iraq and Syria are commemorating their accomplishments. This would be the most obvious choice to adorn an F/A-18E or an F-15E or a B-1B:


I am quite serious. If you follow the CentCom (or DoD) news releases, you will note that “excavators” are one of the top targets of the air campaign. Nary a day goes by without a press release announcing the bombing of another excavator. On Thursday, the US destroyed 9 (9!) excavators, 7 at one location (Bayji).

Obviously, excavation contractor is the most dangerous job in Iraq. (It would be an interesting test of Adam Smith’s theory of compensating wage differentials!)

I get why they are targets. ISIS uses them to build defensive fortifications. They are stationary targets that are easy to identify and hit. They are mainly in isolated areas and engaged in purely military work, and therefore can be destroyed with little risk of killing civilians.

But still. Excavators are hardly high value strategic targets. They support ISIS military operations, but are hardly essential to them: anyways, fortifications are irrelevant if there is no serious possibility of a ground attack, and the key positions in the fortifications could be knocked out when they are manned in preparation of any such attack. Destroying excavators does not crimp ISIS financially in any serious way.

In brief, the War on Excavators is a confession of the strategic inanity of the current air campaign. It smacks of “Well, we’re over here, and we gotta bomb something!” rather than demonstrating a Resolve to destroy ISIS, Inherent or otherwise.

A famous Bush quote criticizing a previous non-serious air campaign comes to mind: “When I take action I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt.”

Regarding tents: we bomb those too. No news on whether any camels were harmed.

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  1. Nevertheless, the executives at Caterpillar must be pleased. 🙂

    Comment by Tim Newman — April 12, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

  2. And the Ex-Im Bank will be financing the Cat deal on replacements!

    Comment by The Pilot — April 12, 2015 @ 3:00 pm

  3. @Tim & The Pilot. As long as ISIS Buys American! it’s all good.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 12, 2015 @ 9:08 pm

  4. I saw a program a couple months ago hosted by a Typhoon pilot. He interviewed several pilots that flew out of Biggin Hill during the Battle of Britain. He fulfilled his life long dream of flying a Spitfire. They dumped him in the channel in the English Channel in typical WW 2 pilots garb. He explained while becoming hypothermic that if you went down in the channel you died.

    The WW 2 pilots fondly remembered Group Captain Douglas Bader who became an Ace even though his legs had been amputated following an earlier crash. Those were men.

    I enjoyed the program and he greatly enjoyed making it and honoring those brave souls

    Comment by pahoben — April 14, 2015 @ 3:26 pm

  5. @pahoben-AHC had a series titled Air Aces that was pretty good. Bader was profiled, as was Gabreski. Robin Olds was featured in a couple of the Dogfights programs, and Parr was in the episode on MiG Alley. Those guys are all amazing. A different breed.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 14, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

  6. @Professor
    I hold the utmost respect for Olds. Not a bureaucrat and not a toady and with stellar accomplishments.

    Comment by pahoben — April 15, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

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