U.S. ready to unleash weapons
By Rowan Scarborough
THE WASHINGTON TIMES - 26 Dec:
The Army plans to quickly deploy its new Shadow 200 spy plane if the United States goes to war against Iraq.
In the Persian Gulf, the Navy has America's newest attack jet — the F-18 Super Hornet — ready for its first extended wartime action.
The Air Force is planning a swarming air campaign against Saddam Hussein that would utilize new ways to use precision-guided munitions.
In all, the military would bring a new array of weapons, infrared sensors and communications gear to any conflict to change the regime in Baghdad. The new gadgets promise to make the war quicker and less bloody than Desert Storm a decade ago, military analysts say.
"A major factor will be precision weapons, and they are far superior today to the ones in Desert Storm. It's unbelievable," said retired Rear Adm. Phillip Smith, a former P-3 Orion pilot. "I think militarily we will be successful in not too much time. I'm not one of those who thinks we can do it in three days, like I recently read."
Added Claude Bolton Jr., the Army's assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, "We have more firepower."
In an interview, Mr. Bolton listed battlefield improvements made during the last decade. He spoke of the emerging Shadow surveillance drone, better night vision gear, a new communication network called "Force 21 Battle Command, Brigade and Below," and an improved model of the Apache tank-killing helicopter.
"We had good capability in situational awareness in the Gulf," said Mr. Bolton, a retired Air Force major general and former jet fighter test pilot. "I would say it's much improved now."
Perhaps there is no greater battlefield advancement since 1991 than the deployment of a satellite-guided bomb, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM).
Using the revolutionary Global Positioning System (GPS), pilots can independently program each 500- or 2,000-pound bomb to hit different targets. Accuracy is measured in feet.
But more importantly, JDAMs is impervious to the elements, or as the military puts it, the system is "all-weather." In the 1991 Gulf war, poor weather caused some laser-guided bombs to go off target, or forced pilots to abort missions.
"In the '91 war, weather created huge problems for us because of cloud cover," said retired Air Force Col. John Warden, who helped plan the air attack.
Today, he said, "Air operations have become significantly less concerned with weather because with GPS and JDAM bombs you can drop through clouds. If you know where the target is, you can drop it."
The military first used the weapon extensively in the 1998 air war against Serbia, primarily from the B-2 Stealth bomber.
Today, JDAM has spread to tactical aircraft, too. Air Force F-15s and F-16s, as well as Navy F-18s and F-14s, can drop the bomb. In 1991, the only Navy plane equipped with laser-guided weapons was the since-retired A-6 Intruder. F-18 pilots had to rely on less-accurate radar guidance, and too often missed battlefield targets, pilots said.
Whether JDAM is a deciding factor in a war with Iraq could be known in the opening days. War plans call for an unprecedented use of the B-2 (perhaps 16 of the 21 bombers) to drop independently targeted JDAMs on critical targets. If the B-2s successfully strike command centers, air defenses and Saddam's security forces, the strikes could shorten the war.
In Desert Storm, only one manned plane could penetrate downtown Baghdad in the first days — the F-117 stealth bomber with its limited arsenal of two laser-guided bombs. The B-2 can carry 16 2,000-pound bombs.
In all, more than 80 percent of all air-to-ground munitions can be precision-guided, compared with 10 percent in Desert Storm. The ability to hit more targets, using fewer missions, is one reason the number of American troops being sent to the region is half the 550,000 deployed in 1991.
"When you roll it all together, I say we're 10 times more powerful," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney. "And [Saddam] is about 30 percent what he was before. So you can see how we can achieve rapid dominance using 'effects-based' operations."
"Effects based" is an Air Force approach to bombing campaigns. Critical parts of the target are destroyed, not the entire complex or network. For example, planners target electrical nodes instead of the much larger generation plant to get the same effect — no military electrical power.
Another big advancement is the development of unmanned spy planes, such as the Air Force Predator and Global Hawk, and the Army's Shadow. The remote-controlled drones can loiter aloft for long periods of time, sending back video images. Commanders can use the "real-time" intelligence to direct air strikes or reposition ground forces.
"We did not have that kind of 'real-time' reconnaissance capability in the Gulf war," Col. Warden said. "If we had a handful of Predators in the Gulf war, we probably would have found and killed Saddam Hussein He was always moving enough that we stayed one step behind."
Col. Warden based his assessment on the fact that in the early hours of the war in Afghanistan, an armed Predator saw Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar escaping Kandahar. Permission to fire the Predator's Hellfire missile was delayed at U.S. Central Command. The reclusive Mullah Omar escaped.
Since then, the Predator's deadly missiles, triggered and guided by CIA operators at Central Command in Tampa, Fla., have killed Taliban and al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Yemen.
The Predator's performance is one reason top Army officials are so optimistic about the Shadow 200 RQ-7A. The 300-pound spy plane is slated to be assigned to the Army's Stryker Brigade Combat Teams — the mobile ground units of the future — and the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
The Army's Mr. Bolton said the future is now for the Shadow if there is a war against Iraq. "They are your eyes and ears," he said. "They can loiter for a long time."
Mr. Bolton listed the Shadow among a number of technological improvements for warfighters.
The M-1A2 Abrams battle tank, now assigned to the 4th Infantry and 1st Calvary divisions, has improved armor and a better fire-control system.
The infrared system allows gunners to watch the round all the way to the target. The older system goes blank for a few seconds after the gun barrel flashes.
"It allows you to make sure you can see the target at all times," he said. "What you like to do is watch that round go downrange."