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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania) March 20, 2003

U.S. Banking More On Smart Bombs;

New Technology Aiming To Minimize Civilian Deaths, Spare Nonmilitary Sites

By Michael Woods

The Pentagon is relying on new targeting technology to reduce civilian casualties and damage to nonmilitary targets during the bombardment of Iraq.

The upgrades range from a predictive computer program that military techies impoliticly term "Bug Splat" to greater use of "smart" weaponry.

"Collateral damage" during the 1991 Persian Gulf War may have directly killed 13,000 civilians, according to one government estimate. Damage to hospitals, water supply systems, the electric power grid and other facilities may have contributed to an additional 70,000 civilian deaths over time. About 40,000 Iraqi soldiers died in combat.

Avoiding collateral damage poses a special challenge in Iraq because Saddam Hussein uses civilians as human shields and intermingles civilian and military facilities.

"He deliberately constructs mosques near military facilities, uses schools, hospitals, orphanages and cultural treasures to shield military forces, thereby exposing helpless men, women and children to danger," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld noted at a briefing.

Aside from avoiding civilian deaths and injuries for both moral and political reasons, the United States also would like to preserve Iraq's infrastructure so the country can bounce back economically after the war.

Days of careful planning often underpin the fuzzy TV images of buildings in gun-camera cross hairs that disappear in a flash of light, according to an expert with U. S. Central Command who briefed reporters on targeting technology at the Pentagon.

The most difficult challenge is hitting military targets close to civilian facilities or striking "dual-use" facilities such as certain communications centers. Even barracks and other valid military targets go through a screening process to figure out what damage might occur to the surrounding area.

Planners develop what amounts to an attack recipe for each target. The ingredients include the weapon, its fusing, time of day for delivery and other factors. About 400 individual targets in Afghanistan were screened.

Using aerial photographs and other images, planners draw circles around targets to see whether damage will overlap civilian facilities. A Hellfire missile's 40-pound warhead causes most damage within a circle about 70 feet in diameter. A 2,000-pound Mark-84 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) bomb has a damage circle of about 600 feet.

That's where Bug Splat can save civilian lives and preserve civilian facilities.

"It's sort of a groupie term, but it's really a mathematical process that we can go to that shows, depending on the direction the bomb is actually falling, where the effects of that fragmentation from the bomb will go."

Planners run the computer program, developed by the U.S. Air Force, to check how blast and other damaging effects might spread. It considers even invisible factors, such as the intensity of the shock wave, whose pressure can burst bodies and buildings, and the range of the bomb's red-hot metal fragments, zooming at 500 miles per hour.

If civilian facilities are within the "splat" region of a vital military target, planners have options. They can pick a time for the attack -- early morning, for instance -- when few civilians are likely to be near. The bomb also can be fused to explode underground, producing less shrapnel than an air burst.

A whole series of other computer programs are used to calculate damage to nearby structures. For instance, planners can keyboard information about a nearby apartment building -- including its distance from the blast, height and number of glass windows -- and get an estimate of how many people might be hurt or killed.

In some circumstances, planners may decide not to bomb the target but to deny its use to the enemy. This tactic would be critical, the official indicated, for buildings used to store chemical or biological weapons. Bombing would spread dangerous material over wide areas.

"Denial-of-use" might involve cutting off a building's electric power supply or ringing it with small mines delivered by air that self-destruct in 24 or 48 hours. The mines could prevent people from taking material out of a building to conceal or destroy it.

Greater use of "smart" bombs -- guided to their targets by laser beams or Global Positioning Satellite -- also should help reduce collateral damage. About 70 percent of the bombs used in Iraq will be precision-guided, compared to 20 percent during Desert Storm in 1991.

Smart bombs usually hit within 21 feet of an intended target, compared with 200 feet for their "dumb" or unguided counterparts. About 7 percent to 10 percent go farther off course, however, due to electrical or mechanical failures.

"In Desert Storm we, on a number of occasions, targeted a particular location with 16 or 18 airplanes," the official said. "We'll do that same target with one now."

INFORMATIONAL GRAPHIC: By AP; Program Executive Office, Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation, Jane's Information Group, GlobalSecurity.org; (PRECISION STRIKE WEAPON)

Copyright 2003, P.G. Publishing Co.