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Dale Brown’s Ops Report
November 2002
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War Against Iraq: Air Power CAN Do It

TAC DOCTRINE -- War Against Iraq: Air Power CAN Do It

I can’t criticize the “talking heads” I see on TV too much--because I am frequently asked to BE one! But with all due respect and apologies, I’ve got to put a halt to all this prognosticating and speculating on what form the upcoming war with Iraq--and other countries--will look like.

My main problem with these so-called experts: they are way too TWENTIETH CENTURY.

“A B-52 never held enemy territory” is a common utterance. I hear a lot about “joint operations” and “coordination of effort.” Air power, many “experts” feel, is good only for “softening-up” the battlefield, which allows the armor and infantry an easier opportunity to fight the “real war.” “Boots on the ground” is the key to winning any conflict. The war hasn’t really started, they say, until the “ground war” begins.

Interviewers and fellow commentators are shocked--SHOCKED!--when I claim that air power can win wars, and they are quick to dismiss my ideas. Of course, they say, Brown is a former Air Force bomber crewdog who now makes his living writing novels about bombers at war--what else would he say? Then they turn to the retired Army colonel who last went to war 30 years ago to find out the “real” strategy.

My question to this so-called warfare expert is simple: why would you risk even one American soldier’s life unnecessarily?

According to a 2001 estimate, Iraq had over 350,000 regular infantry forces, almost a half a million reservists, and 2,200 main battle tanks. Most of these forces protect the capital, guard the border with Iran, and are arrayed as “tripwire” forces on the Kuwaiti border and along the narrow Persian Gulf territory. Although devastated during Desert Storm--as much as fifty percent of the ground forces were destroyed in thirty days--it still remains a large and potentially dangerous fighting force.

While the U.S. Army only outnumbers the Iraqi army by ten percent, the United States enjoys a two-to-one advantage in the numbers of main battle tanks--but of course, we can’t send all our tanks over to the Middle East. In fact, we have pre-positioned equipment for only one hundred tanks in the Middle East right now. Presumably some of the pre-positioned equipment in Europe--4 armored brigades--is on its way to the Middle East to take part in “joint exercises,” but even if it was all sent to the front lines, it would still be only a fraction of Iraq’s armored forces.

[IMAGE] We can argue all year long about the effectiveness and capabilities of Iraq’s ground forces--after all, this is the same Iraqi army that surrendered to unarmed American surveillance planes eleven years ago, because they knew that the drones flying overhead meant that an artillery barrage was not too far behind--but the fact remains: if you plan a ground war, you must study, confront, challenge, and eventually engage these significant forces.

On the other hand, Iraq’s air forces, including its air defense forces, were almost completely wiped out in the Persian Gulf War. Three American aircraft carrier battle groups--just one-third of the U.S. Navy’s total force--field a force equal in size to Iraq’s entire air force, including its air defense forces. Out of 60 bases and airstrips in Iraq before the Persian Gulf War, only 27 are operational today--the rest were either destroyed or have been closed because they are within the northern and southern No-Fly Zones. Two-thirds of Iraq’s airspace is regularly patrolled by Coalition aircraft, and the rest is carefully monitored by radar and satellite every hour.

Add in America’s technological, qualitative, training, and maintenance advantages, and you can see that we already have the edge--and we haven’t even started mentioning the U.S. Air Force’s tactical and strategic weapon systems.

Only ten percent of the ordnance dropped in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 were precision-guided weapons, mostly laser-guided bombs with a small percentage of TV-guided bombs and missiles used for “tank plinking.” For the most part, laser-guided bombs were delivered by “buddy lazing”--one aircraft laid the laser on target while another aircraft released the weapon. This way, a laser malfunction didn’t mean an aircraft loaded with bombs had to return to base. So most times it took at least two aircraft to destroy a target.

In Afghanistan, fifty percent of the weapons dropped on the Taliban were “near-precision” weapons, mostly GPS satellite-guided bombs called JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). Although not as precise as laser- or TV-guided weapons, JDAMs had two distinct advantages: their accuracy is not affected by weather (cloud cover can block a laser targeting beam), and JDAMs find their own way to their targets. That meant that instead of having two or more aircraft destroying one target, now one aircraft could destroy several targets.

A B-1B Lancer bomber can carry as many as thirty 1,000-pound JDAMs. There is no more “bomb run” with a JDAM--no precise track needs to be flown to drop on a target with accuracy. The crew simply needs to fly anywhere within a “basket” around groups of targets, open the bomb doors, let them go, then fly away--the JDAMs glide in by themselves to their targets with 10-30 foot accuracy, even after falling from 5 miles in the sky (in fact, the farther they fall, the greater their accuracy!). They can even attack targets behind the aircraft! The B-2A Spirit stealth bomber can carry as many as sixteen 2,000-pound JDAMs, and even the venerable B-52H Stratofortress can carry as many as twenty-eight JDAMs.

So not only do we have a numerical advantage, but we have a technological one as well. In the air, we can control the time, place, and method of attack because we can control the sky and have an array of different weapons to use.

Sure, mechanized and infantry combat has evolved technologically over the years as well. But in Desert Storm, thirty days of ‘round-the-clock bombardment by Coalition forces left the Iraqi army so decimated that the entire ground war lasted less than one hundred hours.

Would Coalition ground forces have found such an easy go of it without air power? It’s hard to say. But think about this: no conflict fought by the United States since Desert Storm has relied on American ground forces for victory. Total forces deployed to the Balkans at the height of the Kosovo and Bosnia conflicts did not exceed twenty thousand; and there are approximately five thousand American troops on the ground in central Asia in response to the hunt for Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.

You can argue that maybe air power was used simply to avoid politically-hurtful casualties. I would argue that the right weapon was used for the job at hand.

Bottom line: ground forces now seem to be the “mopping-up” force--air power usually comprised the initial and Serbian forces in Bosnia and Kosovo were removed largely by air power; the Taliban fled Afghanistan primarily by air power.

In fact, go back through history even farther:

  • Nine weeks after the end of Linebacker Two, the eleven-day unrestricted heavy bombing of Hanoi, the North Vietnamese signed the Paris Peace Treaty and released almost six hundred American POWs
  • The world hasn’t heard much from Libya after a single air raid in April of 1986
  • World War Two ended within days of unleashing thermonuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Air power was not the sole reason for victory in these conflicts, but there is no doubt that air power played a major and even key role in the quick, decisive end to these conflicts.

    So if we’re planning another operation against Iraq, why waste time, money, and support assets on what will eventually become the “mopping-up” force? We’ll need the ground forces once the war is already won--and there’s no doubt that the best weapons inspectors we can send into Iraq would be the Eighty-Second Airborne Division.

    The target list has undoubtedly been built, and it’s being revised every few hours. When the order from the White House is given, the target coordinates get sent to the bomber and cruise missile units, plugged into the computers, the bombers launch from bases in the U.S. and in the Indian Ocean, and the war is on. Target coordinates can be updated or changed within minutes of release time if necessary, with information provided by electronic and human intelligence sources.

    While the bombers are in the air, the land-based and naval air forces in the Persian Gulf region receive their frag orders, coordinating strikes with the incoming bombers. Rendezvous times, refueling tracks, ingress and egress tracks, cruise missile tracks, and all weapon impact times are planned to the second, to the nearest degree, and the nearest foot in altitude. Like a pro football team that scripts all of the plays for the entire first quarter, follow-on strikes are already being prepared, briefed, and launched.

    Let the bombers, cruise missiles, and smart bombs pound the Republican Guard into oblivion. Saddam’s “palace guards” will be gone. He will have no choice but to run. The regular army will take over Baghdad, and that will pave the way for regime change.

    Then we move to the next target--whichever country still supports terrorism and poses a danger to a peace-loving world.

    Robert Gottlieb
    Trident Media Group
    (212) 262-4810

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