U.S. used overwhelming technical, military advantage

March 03, 1991|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Air force buffs will tell you the Stealth F-117s won it with the first pinpoint strikes on Baghdad's radar and command systems.

Technology freaks say it was the smart bombs, cruise missiles, satellite surveillance and all the other high-tech paraphernalia that did the trick. Army types insist it was good old-fashioned training, training and retraining.

Then there were the effects on Iraqi morale and troop strength of 42 days of mind-numbing bombardment; the lightning-like speed the infantry and armored columns as they swept across Kuwait and southern Iraq; the meticulous coordination and leadership of the various U.S. and allied units.

Pentagon officials say each of these factors was crucial to the U.S.-led coalition's stunning destruction of Iraq's much-vaunted army.

Put together, though, they form a picture that has prompted questions about the strength of Saddam Hussein's military machine.

"Why did this thing turn out to be such a piece of cake has got to be a question," remarked House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin, D-Wis.

"Somehow people took the fact that Iraq had the fourth-largest army in the world and translated it to mean it had the fourth-strongest," he said.

For all of its troops and military hardware, Representative Aspin said, Iraq was nothing more than a conventional power running up against a superpower.

This did not signify Iraqi weakness; rather, it showed the overwhelming strength and depth of the United States and its allies, said a U.S. military strategist who did not want to be identified.

"You've got to remember that we developed those weapons, those maneuvers and the doctrine to fight another superpower, the Soviet Union," he said. "We had a fantastic industrial and technological advantage [over Iraq]."

"We would have got hurt if we had treated them as a pushover," said Col. Douglas V. Johnson II, an analyst at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania.

"It could have turned into something like the British and the Zulus," he said, referring to the early victories of spear-carrying Zulu regiments over technologically superior British colonial forces in 19th century South Africa.

Nowhere was the discrepancy between the powers of Iraq and the U.S.-led alliance more graphically apparent than in the sheer breadth and magnitude of the logistical support in Operation Desert Storm, according to Pentagon officials, some of whom sketched details in interviews last week.

Every day computers located in a tent at operational headquarters at Riyadh would spit out anywhere from 50,000 to 150,000 items of intelligence, said Lt. Col. Steve Roy, a Pentagon spokesman. Each bit of information, he said, had to be evaluated by tactical personnel who would either discard it as redundant, or integrate it into the tactical plan they continuously updated.

"The kind of thing they'd get would be, for example: such-and-such a radar in Iraq was switched on today for 10 minutes instead of the usual 12," Colonel Roy said. "They'd have to look at that and a lot of other things, some of which would mean nothing, and decide whether it was significant."

The intelligence net, he said, spread across the globe. It fed to the Desert Storm command, sometimes in direct transmission, data from surveillance satellites, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, allied

countries and U.S. military attaches in embassies throughout and beyond the Middle East.

The U.S. operation alone relied on at least eight of its military command structures, he said, stretching from the European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, to the Pacific Command in Hawaii, and encompassing also the Space Command in Colorado Springs and the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla.

Add to this the logistical and intelligence capabilities of the other 28 countries in the anti-Iraq coalition, and the force of will, not to speak of materiel, was overwhelming, military analysts say.

In contrast, President Hussein and his million-man army stood practically alone.

"They had no more backing from the Soviets or anybody else who could resupply them," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Rick Oborn. "So every time they used something, pulled the trigger or turned the ignition, they were using up something that they couldn't replace."

Equally important was the fact that Iraq had no access to Soviet space surveillance.

In his now-famous televised exposition of the "100-hour" ground war for Kuwait last week, Desert Storm commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf said that in crippling Iraq's radar surveillance and command network, the allies effectively blinded the giant military machine -- conjuring a Homeric image of the Cyclops, rendered eyeless, blundering about in agony and confusion.

Colonel Roy said the gulf victory signified a dramatic improvement in U.S. air-land battle coordination, and the success of closer cooperation among the four U.S. military services since Vietnam. Reconstruction of the military system since the early 1970s, he said, had wiped out the discord and crumpled morale of past failures.

"We spent 20 years coming to this moment," he said.

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