Air Force says expansion of U.S. air power will stun Iraqis

Wednesday, March 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. air power has grown so dramatically since the first Gulf War that the Iraqi military will be surprised by the fierceness of the opening U.S. attacks, a senior Air Force planner predicted Wednesday.

"I don't think the potential adversary has any idea what's coming," said Col. Gary Crowder, the chief of strategy at Air Combat Command, which is responsible for all Air Force warplanes.

At a Pentagon news conference, Crowder said the United States likely would drop 10 times as many precision-guided munitions - bombs and missiles guided by lasers and satellite signals - on the first day of conflict in Iraq as it did to open the 1991 war. He said 300 - 400 such weapons were dropped in 1991, suggesting that at least 3,000 would be used on the first day this time.

War planning also has become much more efficient, Crowder said. In the first Gulf war, U.S. warplanes attacked each element of Iraq's air defenses in sequence - early warning radars, followed by air defense operations bunkers, followed by airfields and surface-to-air missile sites - before getting to the ultimate target: the Iraqi leadership.

This time, due to more accurate weapons and a fuller understanding of targets in Iraq, the leadership will be attacked at the same time that communications, transportation and air defense targets are bombed, Crowder said. Examples of leadership targets are palaces and command centers expected to be used by President Saddam Hussein and his senior generals.

This more efficient approach is based in part on improved weapons technology and more advanced means of matching weapon types with the kinds of damage desired, Crowder said. For example, if the goal was paralysis of the Iraqi electrical grid, the war planners might single out a small number of power stations or transmission towers as targets rather than striking every power station in the grid.

Crowder also said that the experience gained from patrolling "no fly" zones over southern and northern Iraq since shortly after the first Gulf war gives American and British forces a big advantage.

"Having lived over the no fly zones for the last 12 years, it is a significantly less hostile place than it was in northern and southern Iraq on the opening night of the (1991) Gulf war," he said.

"That simple fact will make the jobs of our men and women aircrews out there doing this a whole lot easier," he added.

The routine of patrolling the zones also provides a form of cover for allied aircraft preparing to launch an all-out air war.

On Wednesday, U.S. and British planes attacked nine military targets in southern Iraq. The headquarters for allied air forces in the Persian Gulf announced that the strikes were in response to Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery.

The targets included long-range artillery near the southern city of Basra and the nearby Al Faw peninsula near the Gulf coastline, plus three military communications sites. Also targeted was a mobile early-warning radar and an air defense command and control site at the H-3 airfield complex in western Iraq near the Jordanian border.

U.S. aircraft also dropped nearly two million leaflets over southern Iraq with a variety of messages, including, for the first time, instructions to Iraqi troops on how to capitulate to avoid being killed.