WASHINGTON -- Five months of gathering data on Iraqi military targets and plotting attack routes enabled U.S. and allied forces to achieve complete surprise and cripple any effort by Baghdad to resist.
Even at the top levels of the U.S. military command here, there was amazement yesterday at the Iraqi air defense system's apparent state of shock and failure to react to the first day's air blows.
Bernard E. Trainor, a retired Marine lieutenant general who served on the Pentagon's joint military staff, said that U.S. "electronic wizardry made them blind, deaf and mute."
In other words, despite months of "strategic" warning that an attack could come, the "tactical" surprise left the Iraqis unable to "see" the coordinated first strikes by radar-evading aircraft and low-flying cruise missiles. And then they were unable to communicate sufficiently to alert and operate air defenses.
Besides what is known about the attack methods employed, it's also considered highly probable that still-secret mechanisms were used to disable elements of Iraqi defenses.
Among other factors cited for the success by military authorities here yesterday were the use of electronic countermeasures to spoof defense radar, rapid suppression of the radar with anti-radiation missiles, inability of control centers to direct jet interceptors and the generally poor quality of the Iraqi air forces.
Ever since U.S. forces were deployed to Saudi Arabia after the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, U.S. intelligence operatives have engaged in a prodigious undertaking with spy satellites and other means to process data on Iraqi forces and targets.
Sources familiar with the undertaking told, for example, how all electronic emissions from Iraqi military systems would have been recorded in high-speed computers.
This enabled planners to plot attack routes on maps that would take aircraft and cruise missiles "under, around and over" radar, missile and gun defenses en route to targets.
The targets' latitude and longitude coordinates -- their location on the map -- are programmed, in such cases, into aircraft computers. The plane takes the pilot to his destination. En route, sensors tell him whether radar is trying to track him.
This whole procedure can be rehearsed in flight simulators, long before the actual mission is flown.
The spearhead of the attack before dawn yesterday was a coordinated strike by Air Force F-117 Stealth, or radar-eluding, fighters and Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles, military authorities said. F-15E fighter-bombers were close behind and are believed to have had Iraqi Scud missiles as main targets.
F-111 fighter-bombers, with terrain-following guidance systems that let them fly close to the ground, also took part in the early attack. Navy A-6 bombers and F-18 attack planes probably loosed high-speed anti-radar missiles against defense radars.
Confronted by stealthy, low-flying and bomb-loaded aircraft and missiles with low visibility to radar, the Iraqis sounded air-raid warnings only after bombs were striking.
Their communications by then were apparently so disrupted that they could not rapidly alert air defense crews or use ground control facilities to direct jet interceptors.
Modified Scud missile emplacements in the arid western regions, within reach of Tel Aviv in Israel, apparently were priority targets for F-15E aircraft. But mobile versions of the missiles are a different matter. Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that he was "deeply concerned" about mobile Scuds.
The Scuds, liquid-fueled and requiring daily fueling and other checks, probably were not kept fully ready for launching. Authorities said the Iraqis might need up to three hours to prepare the missiles for shooting. Fueling operations can be detected by U.S. infrared sensors.
"The U.S.-led coalition apparently achieved complete surprise," said the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in an analysis of the first day's air operations. "The Iraqi air defense was weak and uncoordinated, apparently reflecting the shock of surprise and the success of efforts to disrupt command and control capabilities."