The recent (September 22) start of the bombing campaign against ISIL (the bad al Qaeda) in western Iraq and eastern Syria came as no surprise to those in Iraq who had spotted, and sometimes captured video of, American recon jets (F-15Es, known to be based in Qatar) and UAVs (also based in the Persian Gulf) flying over or towards ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria. This was part of a weeks long effort to find and then confirm the location of targets for the bombing and cruise missile attacks that began on the 22 nd .
F-15Es have the range and capacity to haul a surveillance pod (in addition to their normal powerful surveillance and targeting sensors) to quickly gather lots of details on potential targets. Then there were the photos showing up online of American MQ-9 UAVs carrying the latest version of the Gorgon Stare surveillance system. This is a device that is designed to gather lots of data over a wide area. And on a long endurance UAV like the MQ-9 Gorgon Stare is a formidable intelligence tool.
One of the strengths of the MQ-9 Reaper system isn’t so much that it can carry and deliver bombs and Hellfire missiles, but that it can loiter over a target for 24 hours. Coupled with signals intelligence and traffic analysis, it is a very powerful tool for discerning the enemy’s order of battle and dispositions. It’s not a perfect system, by any means. But it is much better than taking only the occasional snapshot of the enemy.