Ground war likely to rival high-tech of air campaign WAR IN THE GULF

February 03, 1991|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The United States and its allies are preparing for a ground war against Iraqi forces that will rival the air campaign in use of high-tech weapons and exceed it in intensity, military authorities say.

But unlike the air war, the land campaign is expected to suffer high casualties at the outset as allied armor and infantry clear Iraqi minefields, breach fortifications and penetrate enemy lines, probably on multiple fronts.

The ground thrust would be closely coordinated with aerial bombing and missile strikes, using advanced Army helicopter-borne weapons as well as those employed since the start by air forces.

"If the Iraqis think the B-52 bomber is tough," said Representative Dave McCurdy, D-Okla., "wait until they feel the Multiple Launch Rocket System."

Mr. McCurdy, a member of the House armed services and intelligence committees, estimated that the U.S. Army had in Saudi Arabia "probably 100,000" of the artillery rockets.

Mounted on a tracked vehicle, a single MLRS can shoot from one to 12 rockets at a time to a distance of about 20 miles. Each rocket can spew 644 half-pound "bomblets" on troops, vehicles or air defenses.

"If we continue to fight our battles [on U.S. terms rather than the foe's] and use smart tactics, we'll see equivalent technological advantageson the ground to those we see in the air," Mr. McCurdy said.

The MLRS, developed to counter the Soviet Union's rocket artillery in Europe, is just one of the advanced weapons to be brought to bear on Iraqi forces if a combined air-ground assault is ordered.

The Army's primary land weapon -- with very large numbers now deployed for battle -- is the M1A1 Abrams tank, mounting a 120mm cannon that can shoot while the tank moves at high speed. It can pick out targets at night with a thermal-imaging sight.

Operating overhead in the land attack would be the new missile-armed Apache helicopter, also fitted with night-vision devices for round-the-clock operations. Its anti-tank Hellfire missile is laser-guided, riding toward laser light focused on targets by ground teams, other aircraft or the Apache itself.

The Apache has had development problems that got it a bad press. But, Mr. McCurdy said, "Its problems are not going to keep it out of the sky. . . . It is well-suited to this war."

The latest ground force weapon reported to be deployed in Saudi Arabia is the Army Tactical Missile System, which Mr. McCurdy called "incredibly" accurate.

There is not yet a large arsenal of these weapons, and their use in the gulf war might come under the heading of realistic operational testing.

W. Seth Carus, a missile authority at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the ATACMS had a range of about 90 miles. He described it as semiballistic -- that is, having a potential for en route maneuvering around air defense sites instead of flying a predictable ballistic course.

The missile is fired from the Multiple Launch Rocket System used for the artillery rockets. Army sources said the present version can have updated target information stored in its guidance system seconds before launching but cannot yet be given midcourse directions to moving targets.

It has been reported that an ATACMS warhead can discharge 1,000 "bomblets" against enemy troops or equipment.

Another highly advanced military system getting its first tryout in the gulf war is the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System.

TC If it lives up to its design goals, the JSTARS is likely to become as familiar as the AWACS -- Airborne Warning and Control System -- plane that detects enemy aircraft, controls air battles and is often dispatched to trouble spots to show the flag.

The JSTARS is a 707 airplane, like the AWACS, but is crammed with electronic equipment to detect ground movements rather than air operations. There is only one in existence, and there was apparently some controversy in the Pentagon about sending it to the gulf before testing was complete.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander, has spoken well of the JSTARS' ability to detect and follow enemy troop movements.

Ideally, the plane can tell commanders exactly where ground targets are and what movements they make so that they can be struck almost immediately -- for example, by Apache-fired missiles.

For all the sophisticated new arms, however, there is one hug obstacle, said Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute, that must be overcome "more by technique than by technology."

That obstacle is the minefields laid in the sand by the Iraqis around the Kuwaiti border. They "have had plenty of time" since August to spread the treacherous devices, an Army source pointed out.

He said the allies have doubtless been reviewing all the techniques for "a quick breach" of the fields to clear corridors for advancing armor and mechanized infantry.

The Army source and Mr. Eisenstadt both said combat engineers would shoot out rope-like lines of explosives to explode the mines over a sufficient width of territory for tank columns to pass. Plows or rollers fixed to lead tanks could clear the odd mine as the columns advanced.

Mr. McCurdy, who did brief duty in Saudi Arabia as an Air Force reserve officer in December, said he thought the air campaign might be waged "through most of February" before commanders reached decisions about a ground war.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.