TCS Daily

HARM's Way

By Dale Franks - March 7, 2003 12:00 AM

Air Force General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he's planning for a short war. "And the best way to do that," he says, "is to have such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on that the end is inevitable." He's got the means to do it, too. The Pentagon is calling it the "shock and awe" plan.

And while most people are aware that the ability of U.S. forces to project combat power has improved radically since the Gulf War, few understand the specifics of what that might mean.

During the Gulf War, despite all the exciting video that Air Force General Jack Horner displayed of our precision bombing capability, nine out of ten bombs dropped in Iraq were old-fashioned "dumb" bombs. While these bombs are effective if they hit their targets, they are relatively inaccurate, which means that more bombs have to be dropped to ensure that the desired target is destroyed. Pilots have to fly more sorties, therefore, and more aircraft have to be used to attack a target in order to ensure its destruction.

In any new campaign against Iraq, 80% of the bombs dropped will be precision-guided munitions that will home in on their targets using laser beams, video cameras, or Global Positioning Satellites. This increases the efficiency of air attacks to the point where the same number of planes today can drop five times the amount of ordnance that was possible in the Gulf War. And, of course, each bomb will be far more effective in terms of its likelihood of hitting its target. Each plane, therefore, will have the ability to strike a much greater number of targets per sortie. This will cause much more widespread devastation to Iraq's military capabilities in a much shorter period of time than was required in 1991.

For the Iraqi Army, this not only means that their bases and infrastructure will be quickly destroyed, but any attempt at movement on the ground will almost be a death sentence for the Iraqi troops involved. Packs of F-15e Strike Eagles and venerable A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolts will pounce on any Iraqi military movements-day or night-destroying the leading and trailing vehicles of the convoy, then mopping up the rest at their leisure.

Working at an Iraqi air defense installation is not likely to be much fun, either. Protecting the allied air effort will be Navy and Air Force fighters armed with AGM-88 HARM Anti-radiation missiles. The HARM missile seeks out radar emitters and locks on their locations. Once the missile has locked on your location, turning off the radar is useless. The missile already knows where you are. As soon as an Iraqi radar site powers up, these missiles will be on their way.

And that's only the aerospace portion of U.S. combat power. For the Iraqi Army, equipped with obsolete, Soviet-era military technology, facing U.S. ground forces will be highly dangerous as well.

Assuming that any Iraqi artillery batteries survive the allied air attacks, they will have to face counterbattery fire from U.S. Artillery. As soon as the Iraqis fire, the Army's Firefinder ground radar will track the trajectory of the shells, calculate the locations from which they were fired, and pass the firing coordinates to U.S. artillery batteries before the first Iraqi shell hits the ground. In other words, for the Iraqi Army, firing an artillery barrage is a quick way of asking for immediate destruction.

Iraqi tanks are also easily outclassed. The majority of the Iraqi Army's armor force is made up of 40-year-old Soviet T-54s and T-62s, or Chinese variants of these models. They are old, slow, and short-ranged tanks. The most modern tank in the Iraqi inventory is the Soviet T-72, which is employed by the Republican Guard. It will be facing the Army's M1 Abrams main battle tank. The Abrams can fire with astounding accuracy while on the move, at speeds in excess of 40 miles per hour, and can stop a T-72 with one shot. The T-72, on the other hand, must stop before it can fire with any accuracy, has a much shorter effective range than the Abrams, and has a much slower top speed. It is essentially a sitting duck for a fast moving column of Abrams. And it's the best tank the Iraqis have.

On paper, the Iraqis have a fairly large army and air force. In reality, however, the lack of spare parts and maintenance drastically reduces their ability to field any of these forces, to maintain combat readiness, or to repair even minor battle damage. A large part of the Iraqis' paper combat strength will not even be usable even at the very start of war.

Moreover, Iraqi ground forces are divided into the Regular Army and the Republican Guard. Both forces have separate chains of command, and distrust each other immensely. This violation of the principle of unity of command, coupled with the intense rivalry between these two services, does not enhance Iraq's combat efficiency.

While we can take comfort that U.S. capabilities are an order of magnitude greater than those of Iraq, however, this does not mean that we can be overly confident. There are many imponderables in war, and in the case of Iraq, the possibility that the Iraqi regime will deploy Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be discounted. These weapons are a force multiplier for the Iraqi forces, and are a serious threat that our commanders must address. An attack with VX nerve agent, for example, can cause horrendous casualties for our troops if they are caught unprepared. Fortunately, American troops practice constantly against this eventuality, so we can be hopeful that any such attack will be ineffective.

All things considered, it's difficult to imagine any inducement that would make one willingly choose to face combat against the U.S. military from the Iraqi side.

TCS Daily Archives