B-52s rain bombs impact questioned DESERT STORM/ Weaponry of war

January 24, 1991|By Bill Sweetman | Bill Sweetman,Jane's Defence Weekly

Jane's on Defense is written by experts at Jane's Defence 1/2 Weekly, part of the Jane's Information Group in London, which also publishes "Jane's Fighting Ships" and other military books and journals.

As giant B-52s rain bombs and missiles with hellish fury at Saddam Hussein's troops in southern Iraq and Kuwait, some analysts wonder about the effectiveness of these round-the-clock aerial attacks.

More than 540,000 Iraqi soldiers are believed to be spread out over miles of desert, sheltered inside protective bunkers that are hidden in huge sand dunes.

"The B-52 is like a shotgun," says one analyst. "It's going to hit a lot of things, but it's not going to hit a lot of things.

"There's almost certainly several thousand tanks and artillery in that area. To put a bomb on each one is going to take a long time."

Said another expert, "A lot depends on the resolve of the Iraqi forces.

"As awesome as [carpet bombing] appears, and you believe that nothing could survive that kind of thing, people do."

Pentagon leaders hope that Saddam's forces will not be able to survive a lengthy strategic bombing campaign.

They also acknowledge that Saddam is betting that his forces will endure, then emerge from their desert trenches and underground command posts for a bloody war of attrition.

Officials have been close-mouthed so far about specific results of the bombing, blaming bad weather for delaying photo reconnaissance assessments or saying it was difficult to gauge damage to dispersed and well-entrenched ground forces.

Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that it appeared Iraqi forces were hunkering down -- "they're spread out, they're dug in, they're hiding. . . . sitting there dug in, waiting to be attacked" -- taking everything the allies can throw at them and wondering if the allies can keep it up.

Powell said it is hard to measure the damage being inflicted -- "You really don't know how you're doing against an army until that army tries to perform its function, until we can see defections come out of it or if it's necessary, to go in and fight it."

But from now on, the general said, the multinational force would intensify bombing of communications links, supplies and reinforcements to "cut off" and then "kill" Saddam's desert forces.

Powell and Defense Secretary Richard Cheney said they hope that Saddam will surrender, but if he does not, allied ground troops will not attack until there is assurance that the massive air raids have inflicted "enormous damage" on Saddam's army.

B-52s and other allied combat planes have been bombing around the clock since allied forces shifted the air war to attacking the core of Saddam's military power, the elite Republican Guard and army tank divisions on the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders.

More than 35 years after the first B-52 rolled off the Boeing production line in Seattle and 18 years after they demolished great sections of Hanoi during the Christmas raids of 1972, the B-52 has gotten better -- and, the Pentagon hopes, deadlier -- with age.

The biggest warplane flying against the Iraqis and certainly one of the oldest (none of the B-52s still flying is less than 30 years old), it has new state-of-the-art computers and other equipment that enable B-52s to drop unguided bombs and "smart weapons" with far better accuracy and that better protect the plane from surface-to-air missiles and radar-guided anti-aircraft fire.

The giant bomber has been so extensively remodeled in recent years that little more than its airframe and hulking silhouette remain the same.

It is now estimated that with continued modifications the plane ,, can remain on active duty until 2035, 80 years after the first B-52 was delivered to the Air Force.

The bombers typically attack in formations of three, unleashing all their 51 500-pound or 750-pound bombs (the bombers can also carry up to 12 laser-guided smart missiles) at once from altitudes of six or seven miles.

B-52s this week dropped so much tonnage on Iraq it set off vibrations across the border in Iran, Pentagon officials said.

Some outside analysts say the aerial barrage must be inflicting massive damage to troops and their equipment and will eventually render the Republican Guard ineffective against U.S.-led ground troops.

In South Vietnam, B-52s were often dispatched against concentrations of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.

Survivors were sometimes found dazed, staggering and bloody. Many defectors said fear of the B-52s had caused them to give up.

But other analysts wonder if the bombers may be having only a random impact on the Iraqis who, they believe, are spread out in small pockets over at least 50 miles of desert inside steel and concrete bunkers that are buried deep in the desert sands.

In an interview with the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, Richard Hallion, a professor of aviation history with the (x Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, said he suspects the massive bombing raids are flattening Saddam's best troops.

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