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Technology, Doctrine Changes Allow for Better Bombing Runs

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2003 - In the first 24 hours of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, coalition military aircraft "struck more targets than were struck in all of 1942 and 1943 by 8th Air Force during the Combined Bomber Offensive," an Air Force officer said in the Pentagon today.

In the opening hours of the impending military conflict with Iraq, American aircraft could drop 10 times as many bombs.

The looming clash will be "an order of magnitude larger in terms of numbers of targets struck within the first 24 to 48 hours," Col. Gary Crowder, chief of strategy, concepts and doctrine for Air Combat Command, said.

Advances in precision and stealth technology and a new approach to planning have allowed for more efficient prosecution of bombing campaigns, the colonel explained.

And while massive amounts of bombs may fall on Iraq, they may cause less collateral damage than has ever been seen in a major offensive. Stealth and precision technology and new ways of thinking are leading to fewer aircraft being used and less damage being done in on the ground while still leading to the most effective use of air power.

Low levels of precision led to massive amounts of damage in Germany and Japan in World War II. The military measures precision in a complex term called "circular error probable," or CEP. That means the distance from the intended point of impact that at least 50 percent of munitions can be expected to land within.

The CEP of bombs dropped from the WWII-era B-17 was 3,300 feet. Only half of the bombs dropped were expected to land within 3,300 feet of their intended target. "If you wanted to have a high probability of destruction of a target of 60 (feet) by 100 feet, you'd need about 1,500 airplanes and about 9,000 bombs," Crowder said.

By Desert Storm, Crowder added, "we were able to hit two independent targets very precisely with about 10-foot CEP from a single aircraft."

"Baghdad will not look like Dresden," he assured. Allied bombers virtually destroyed that German city in a 1945 World War II campaign.

Crowder said the U.S. military is employing a different way of thinking about what it wants to achieve on the battlefield. "Instead of a traditional attritional approach in terms of listing a bunch of targets and then go bombing targets or finding where the enemy is and killing all the enemy, we really determined that what we wanted to do was achieve some sort of policy objective," he said.

Target planners consider what military objective is desired. For instance, Crowder explained that total destruction of Iraq's power grid is not necessarily a desired outcome to cut off the electrical power that helps enemy forces perform. Instead, planners just really want to disable the military forces' command and control capabilities.

Bombers could, of course, destroy the whole grid. But targeting strategic junctions has several advantages. It preserves the power grid for use after a conflict, and it requires fewer air assets to accomplish the mission while achieving the same objective - to disadvantage the enemy forces.

Another revolution in targeting involves what Crowder called "parallel warfare." Military campaigns have historically been linear or sequential in their prosecution. Forces would attack one element of an air defense system then go after another until the air defense system was destroyed, then they could go after whatever they really intended to attack all along.

Parallel warfare and advances in technology allow planners to go after an entire air defense system and the true objective in one fell swoop, Crowder explained.

The key is to look at a defensive system as a whole instead of its elements and ask what element has to be taken out to shut down the whole. It's often not necessary to destroy every individual element to achieve the desired effect. And with modern technology advancing to the point that one B-1 bomber can carry up to 24 satellite-guided bombs that can strike 24 separate targets in one run, successive bombing runs aren't necessary.

It's possible to take out an entire air defense system and whatever the system was protecting with a single bombing run. "The addition of these capabilities gives us an extremely large volume of fires or effects early in an operation in a very, very short period of time," Crowder said.

"(We can now) go after a target that might be military or political leadership, that might be essential industries or transportation," he added. "You could actually now attack the enemy as a system and work toward trying to achieve systemic collapse."

The point is it's not necessary to destroy everything. "If we understood what the effect we desired on the battlefield (was), we could then figure out ways of creating that effect more efficiently, more effectively, while striking less targets, using less weapons, and . mitigating potential concerns for collateral damage and civilian casualties," Crowder said.

Stealth technology also allows fewer planes to be used in each bombing run. In on mission in the early hours of Desert Storm, 41 aircraft were used to get eight bombers to the southern Iraq city of Basra. "Sweep and escort" fighters, drones, and electronic attack aircraft were all included as the necessary way of doing business before the widespread use of stealth aircraft.

These technological and doctrinal advances have all led to a strategy military leaders hope will "shock and awe" the Iraqi military and leaders into capitulation, Crowder explained.

"I do not think that our potential adversary has any idea what's coming," he said. "The degree and the capabilities that this nation has fielded, together with our coalition partners over the last 10 years, we would not have believed it possible in 1991."