U.S. demonstrates `new style of war' in Iraq

Advanced weaponry, a more mobile force have shown their worth

War In Iraq

April 13, 2003|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In the midst of a blinding sandstorm, Iraqi armor forces moved under its seeming protection to strike at American forces on the approaches to Baghdad.

But the powerful radar of a JStars surveillance plane penetrated that swirling, dun-colored cloak to spot the enemy force, quickly passing its coordinates to a B-52 bomber. A wave of precision-guided, 500-pound bombs incinerated a number of the armored vehicles as the others quickly retreated, a defense official said.

An all-seeing American eye on the Iraqi forces and thousands of these satellite-guided weapons during the past three weeks quickly eroded the enemy's fighting power.

That combination was years away in 1991, when Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Horner commanded the air campaign in the first war against Saddam Hussein.

"It is a sea change. They did something we were never able to do in the Persian Gulf war," Horner, now retired, said in an interview. "In the gulf war, we had to see the target" before striking it from an aircraft - in contrast with the method that now enables U.S. forces to locate a target through radar alone, without actual visual contact.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top aides, mindful of the power of precision weapons and superior knowledge of enemy movements afforded by sophisticated surveillance equipment like the JStars, brushed aside initial attempts by the U.S. Central Command to bring an abundance of tank-heavy ground forces to the fight.

Rumsfeld wanted a lighter, more mobile force to quickly surge toward Baghdad and take down the Iraqi regime, all the while aided from above by the high-tech eye and the precision bomb.

"The initial plan submitted was Gulf War II. It was big, with a tremendous supply line," said a senior Pentagon official. "[Rumsfeld] said, `I want something with higher risk and higher payoff.' He said to do the safest thing is to do the riskiest thing of all. To do what the Iraqis expect could be the biggest risk."

The defeat of Hussein will finally usher in the "new American style of war," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., a proponent of fast-moving and smaller ground forces, precision firepower and an "unblinking eye" over the battlefield. Iraq in 2003 was "a whole generation different than 1991."

And the success of the operation in Iraq might not only affect how future wars look, but how the U.S. military is sized, organized and trained, as well as which weapons are purchased.

Don Snider, a professor of political science at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said the reverberations from the Iraqi war stand to be "immense."

"Modern warfare is going to be information-based, with fewer munitions and more accurate munitions," said Snider.

Moreover, a high priority will be given to units that can get to the battlefield quickly. Snider and other analysts pointed out that the steaming time for the 4th Infantry Division from its base in Texas to the region was between three and four weeks, which they say is too long for modern warfare.

"We have to respond fast," Snider said.

To achieve that, analysts say, the United States needs to pre-position arms, equipment and smaller-sized forces in bases around the world. Pentagon officials are looking at creating new installations in Eastern Europe for just that reason.

The Iraqi war will likely accelerate efforts by the Army to create rapidly deployable forces with lighter, 20-ton armored vehicles that can be brought directly to a fight by C-130 aircraft, rather than massive 70-ton Abrams tanks that must rumble overland, possibly through enemy territory.

There is even talk at the Pentagon of cutting back on planned modernizations of the Abrams.

The war might also stimulate changes in air power. Andrew Krepinevich, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, questions the need to spend tens of billions of dollars on several hundred of the next generation fighter aircraft, the F/A-22, soon to be in production.

Snider, in a similar vein, pointed out that the Iraqis never put a warplane or helicopter into the sky, while U.S.-led forces flew more than 35,000 sorties. "Do we need a new fighter?" he asked.

Also, analysts note that other real or potential American adversaries, including North Korea and Syria, Iran and Libya, lack formidable air forces.

Krepinevich said the B-2 bomber, flying roundtrip from Missouri to Iraq, for the first time dropped 80 precision 500-pound bombs, making a single sortie far more powerful than multiple runs of other combat aircraft. Such an achievement might cause the Pentagon to think about procuring more long-range bombers over short-run fighter jets, he said.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank, was surprised like others at how Apache Longbow attack helicopters were chewed up by small-arms fire as they approached Baghdad.

As a result, there might be calls for their role to be taken over by fixed-wing aircraft.

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