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Iraq: high tech hit and miss.

The war to liberate Kuwait in 1991 continues to provide new lessons for future military confrontations. One of the United States' most-widely touted successes at the time was its destruction of mobile Scud missile launchers by sophisticated bombing. Yet the United States Air Force has now concluded that they may all have escaped. Alan George reports on USAF's reassessment of its wartime operations.

DESPITE CLAIMS during the Kuwait war, coalition air and ground forces probably failed to destroy any of Iraq's mobile Scud launchers, according to an independent study of the campaign commissioned by the US Air Force. The study, a summary of which has just been released by the Pentagon, reveals that the coalition was poorly prepared to counter the Iraqi Scud threat, badly misjudged the technical capabilities of Iraqi Scud crews, and learned nothing as the war proceeded.

The report says that "although the |USAF~ Special Planning Group had planned since August 1990 to attack the fixed Scud sites, neither that group nor anyone else had devised, prior to the war, a search-and-destroy scheme for dealing with the mobile launchers."

The assumptions were that the Iraqis would initially operate from fixed launch sites; that if they used mobile launchers, allied pilots would have sufficient time before the Scuds were fired to locate and destroy the launchers; and that decoys would not pose a serious problem. In the event, the Iraqis relied entirely on mobile launchers, "dramatically cut their prelaunch setup times, avoided any prelaunch electromagnetic emissions that might give away their locations before the launch, and seeded the launch areas with decoys and other vehicles," said the report.

The errors in coalition tactics, moreover, were masked by mistaken reports of successes against the mobile Scuds. Aircrews claimed the destruction of 80 mobile launchers while more were reported by special forces units operating behind enemy lines.

"Most, if not all, of the objects involved now appear to have been decoys, vehicles such as tanker trucks that were impossible to distinguish on infra-red or radar sensors from mobile launchers, or other objects that were unfortunate enough to provide 'Scud-like' signatures", says the USAF report.

"Given the level of effort," it concludes, "a few |mobile launchers~ may have been destroyed, but nowhere near the numbers reported during the war. There is no indisputable proof of any having been destroyed."

The report, entitled The Gulf War Air Power Survey, includes strong criticism of coalition targeting in general, explaining how this frequently stemmed from inadequate intelligence. "It is possible to argue, based on the overall success of the air campaign, that the limited intelligence data available to the Air Staff in August 1990 was adequate for the selection of target categories," says the report.

"However, the choices of target categories were shaped at least as much by doctrinal considerations about the proper use of air power at the operational level of war as by detailed intelligence on targets and target systems in Iraq. While staff Intelligence officers did much to fill in the target categories as best they could, the idea of a strategic air campaign rested upon only the most general understanding of Iraq, its society, infrastructure or military capabilities."

The mobile Scud launchers were perhaps the most extreme example of individual targets that were never located. Other targets were located "to one degree or another" but "their full significance or extent was not understood during the war."

Nuclear installations were a classic case. The Al Atheer nuclear laboratory was bombed but "not until afterwards did the coalition learn about its central importance in the Iraqi nuclear programme." The Ash Sharqat facility in northern Iraq was also attacked. That it formed a crucial element in the electromagnetic isotope (EMIS) uranium enrichment project was discovered only after the war.

The target list on 16 January 1991 included just two nuclear targets, notes the study, "but after the war inspectors operating under the UN Special Commission would eventually uncover more than 20 sites involved in the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme of which 16 were described as 'main facilities'."

Generally, said the report, the coalition had excellent intelligence on conventional military targets such as the disposition of ground forces and the design of airfields, and as a result was able to use air power with devastating effect against these targets. Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological warfare programmes, plus the Scuds, "were areas that Saddam Hussein wanted to protect as much as possible from coalition air attacks, and the extent to which the Iraqis were able to do so with concealment, deception, hardening, dispersal, redundancy and mobility does not appear to have been fully appreciated until after the war," says the USAF study.

During the 43 days of Desert Storm, fixed-wing coalition aircraft made 41,310 strikes against Iraq, the report reveals. Of these, 1,500 were related to Baghdad's ballistic missile capabilities and 970 were linked to Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological (NBC) targets. Of the missile-linked attacks, half were aimed at fixed launching sites or structures such as culverts suspected of being hiding places for mobile launchers. About 30% were aimed at missile production and infrastructure targets. Only 15 were specifically aimed at mobile launchers themselves.

Of the NBC-related strikes, over 40% involved precision bombing and about 80% of these precision attacks were by F-117 Stealth bombers. A range of aircraft conducted the so-called "non-precision" attacks, including long-range B-52 bombers.

In Baghdad and elsewhere, the coalition has been accused of deliberately and wilfully causing damage beyond strictly military requirements, especially by bombing industrial, power, transport and oil installations. The report explains that the aim was "to affect the military support provided by these entities while limiting the damage in other respects."

It readily concedes, however, that there was no attempt "to avoid inconvenience to the Iraqi population. Rather |the planners~ wished to inflict disruption and a feeling of helplessness on the Iraqi public without bringing about severe suffering - all in the hope of weakening President Saddam Hussein's grip."

It is undeniable that the air campaign did weaken Saddam's hold on Iraq. Less clear as yet is whether this proves to be irreversible.
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Title Annotation:Current Affairs; re-appraisal of US military technology two years after the Iraq-Kuwait war
Author:George, Alan
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Who's killing the children?
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