The Orlando Sentinel (Florida) March 20, 2003
War with Iraq Means Faster, Better Weapons;
Commanders Plan to Throw More Firepower at Targets In Shorter Period of Time;
More than 90% of Munitions Might Be Smart Bombs, Compared with 7% During 1st Persian Gulf War;
As Many as 3,000 Weapons Could Fall in 'One Fierce Storm' During 1st 2 Days of Fghting, War College Expert Said
By Mark Andrews, Sentinel Staff Writer
The U.S. military's strategy for winning the second Persian Gulf war boils down to this:
More, better, faster.
Theater commanders are hurling 10 times more bombs and missiles at Iraqi targets in the first couple of days of this war than were used in a comparable period in the 1991 war.
Far greater numbers of those weapons will be precision-guided munitions, defense analysts say. In the first Gulf War, only 7 percent of the aerial assault involved so-called "smart bombs." During the NATO conflict in Kosovo in 1999, the percentage of precision ordnance was up to 30 percent; in the 2001-02 campaign to dislodge the Taliban from Afghanistan, that figure had risen to 60 percent.
This time, it could reach 80 percent to 90 percent or even higher, said Michael Vickers, strategic studies director at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based think tank.
About 150 bombs and missiles were used in the first night of the 1991 war. This time, Vickers said, as many as 3,000 could fall in the first two days of fighting.
"What I would expect to happen is everything is unleashed in one fierce storm," echoed Steven Metz, director of research at the Strategic Studies Institute, which is part of the U.S. Army War College. "Bomb strategic targets; insert ground forces."
The lag time between commencement of the air war and the start of a ground assault could shrink from five weeks in 1991 to only a few days -- if even that much, he said.
"The biggest distinguishing feature [in this war] is that everything is going to happen at once," Metz said. "If you have superior ability to strike and organize what you're doing, you can overwhelm [the enemy] in fairly short order."
The military calls this new strategy "rapid decisive operations." Before now, military campaigns were "phased and linear," Metz said. Distinct events followed each other in succession.
"You built up a mountain of iron, then came the air campaign, followed by the ground campaign," he said. "But with RDO, it's nonlinear and simultaneous."
Technological improvements making their debut in this war are not restricted to smart bombs. They also include electromagnetic-burst weapons that can fry the circuitry of radios and computers, an Air Force munition that spews tank-hunting bomblets, a "loitering" missile that can slink into enemy territory and "sleep" until a target presents itself, and something called an "agent defeat weapon" that uses an incendiary explosive to burn harmful chemicals and biological toxins, then further inactivates them with chlorine and acid cleansers.
All these advances have enabled the military to make a quantum leap forward in its battlefield capability that could be compared to the introduction of thejet-airplane engine, or replacement of muzzle-loading muskets with the breech-loading rifle.
"New technologies will come out as this [war] progresses," Metz said. "This will be the chance to test some of them."
The point of all this is to enable U.S. and British forces to accomplish several goals in very short order, said Francois Boo, associate analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense-policy research organization. For example:
Destroy Iraq's air-defense network and gain mastery of the air.
Take out command-and-control centers, along with possible sites for chemical- and biological-warfare programs.
Eliminate anything that could launch weapons of mass destruction toward coalition forces or U.S. allies in the region.
Take out key installations of the Iraqi elite, including ministry buildings and presdiential palaces.
Strike units that are expected to put up resistance.
Pave the way for the ground offensive.
"The U.S. is saying that anyone who puts up resistance is subject to destruction," Boo said.
British forces have been commissioned with the task of occupying the city of Basra and securing the nearby oil fields. Technological advances also include what the military calls "battlefield awareness" -- the use of satellite-signal technology to pinpoint enemy and friendly forces on the ground, said retired Rear Adm. Stephen Baker, a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.
That both enhances opportunities for quick kills of enemy targets, such as Scud missile launchers that suddenly go active, and reduces the risk of "friendly fire" accidents.
"It doesn't obliterate the 'fog of war,' but it certainly diminishes it," Baker said.
This all comes in an era of a drastically downsized U.S. military. Compared with the start of the first Persian Gulf War, the Air Force has 44 percent fewer jet fighters and attack aircraft, the Navy has 42 percent fewer similar planes, and the Army is down from 18 divisions of troops to 10.
This war also will see a broader role for special-operations forces than in the first Gulf War, Vickers said. It won't be the same as Afghanistan, where Special Forces performed the bulk of the duty, he said. But they have been inside Iraq for at least two months, searching for sites of weapons of mass destruction, and now are scouting ahead of regular troops and trying to pinpoint members of the Iraqi leadership.
Pentagon planners expect to overwhelm Iraq's regular army with little trouble.
Of more concern are the 80,000-member Republican Guard, which is thought to be guarding the approaches to Baghdad, and the Special Republican Guard, an elite force of 15,000 troops that guards President Saddam Hussein. How much resistance they put up is one of the key questions as the war unfolds.
"I think the Iraqi people are going to welcome U.S. forces as liberators," Vickers said. "Not that many Republican Guard forces are inside the city; most are on the perimeter."
Analysts say Saddam has few options: He could hole up in a bunker somewhere in Baghdad or at one of his palaces and hope to ride out the firestorm; head north to his hometown of Tikrit, where he has many defenders; or try to escape along a refugee or smuggling route, perhaps into Syria.
Three keys will determine how quickly the war ends, Metz said. One is the success of the rapid decisive operations doctrine. "Right now, it really is a theory," he said. Second is a worry that Pentagon planners may have misunderstood the psychology of Saddam: "Will he hunker down?" Third is the fighting spirit of the Special Republican Guard.
"Will they collapse right away, or will we have to duke it out in the streets of Baghdad?" Boo said. "There are a lot of unknowables."
Copyright © 2003, Sentinel Communications Co.