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Dale Brown’s Ops Report
Special February 2003 Supplement
19 February 2003
Copyright © 2003, TDPI

This special report is a commentary on issues and observations leading up to a possible war with the Republic of Iraq.


Timing on the War with Iraq: Too hot or too bright to fight?

I’m getting a real kick out of all the talk about timing for the possible start of hostilities between the coalition of nations led by the United States versus the Republic of Iraq.

The time frame suggested by most reports—between 26 February and 5 March 2003—may indeed be correct; the reasons, however, are not. It reflects the lasting, seemingly indelible subscription to the myths of warfighting created in World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam that still persist in twenty-first century America.

Let’s talk about some of these recurring fallacies:

Fallacy #1: The United States will only fight on a moonless night. The next moonless night over Iraq will be 27 February, and the moon reappears on 4 March. Therefore, the logic goes, the U.S. will commence its attacks by 27 February and will hopefully wrap up the decimation of the Iraqi air defenses by 4 March, when Coalition aircraft can operate past the range of optically-guided anti-aircraft weapons.

Not bad logic—but totally false. The U.S. military can fight any time of the day or night, in any weather, and under any sky condition. This is not just propaganda, a recruiting slogan, or hyperbole. Remember, the war will probably kick off with volleys of cruise missiles aimed at Iraqi command and control centers, military bases, headquarters buildings, warehouses, and other large fixed targets. Although aircraft are somewhat easier to see during a full moon, it is not so easy to hit an aircraft traveling over three hundred miles an hour just a few dozen yards above ground, no matter how well lit it is.

True, Iraqi air defense weapon systems with optical or optronic sights can see aircraft easier at night during a full moon. But it also makes it easier for aircrews to spot the enemy air defense weapons and neutralize them. Also remember that Coalition aircraft have been patrolling almost two-thirds of Iraq for the past several years—it would be very unlikely that the Iraqis could sneak in great numbers of anti-aircraft weapons without the Coalition plotting their locations. With U-2 spy plane overflights over the rest of Iraq commencing this week, every square mile of Iraq is now potentially under ‘round-the-clock surveillance.

Optical or optronic guidance systems are not as precise or reliable as electronic fire control systems. It is akin to hunting while looking only through the telescopic sights—it’s hard to spot your target initially through the sight, and it’s hard to keep your target in the crosshairs if it moves quickly or moves in different directions. Optical sights may increase the risk to some types of aircraft, such as helicopters or other slower-flying aircraft. But to most Coalition aircraft, such as heavy high-flying bombers or low fast-movers, they are not much of a threat.

The United States military definitely “owns the night”—even a moonlit night. It would always be best to maximize your advantages, and it would definitely be an advantage to attack on a moonless night, but modern air forces aren’t bound by that old rule.

Fallacy #2: The United States won’t fight after 15 April when it gets too hot during the day in Iraq.

It is definitely true that fighting in hot weather is tough, and fighting in chemical warfare suits is even tougher. A full NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) warfare ensemble includes a non-porous full-body suit, gloves, overboots, mask, and hood. The ensemble is worn over light undergarments but the regular issue equipment is worn over it—web gear, body armor, packs, weapons, radios, rations, ammo, and other equipment.

I have worn NBC suits on B-52 conventional warfare missions, and believe me, it is not fun. Even with max air conditioning and a normally cold cabin, it’s not unusual for an aircrew member to lose ten pounds of water weight in an NBC suit during a ten-hour mission. I can easily imagine that lying in a fighting trench in the hot sun with no ventilation in an NBC suit would be murder for any length of time at all.

If an attack is possible or suspected, especially for troops in the forward edge of the battle area, wearing an NBC suit is mandatory, and casualties from trying to fight in hot weather with NBC gear on are likely.

But let’s put the reality of chemical or biological warfare into perspective:

First, using bio-chem weapons is just as hazardous for the users as it is for the targets—maybe more so. Bio-chem weapons are more effective if they are concentrated in a particular area, and there is no place where those weapons are more concentrated as on their home bases or storage areas. One mistake loading a chemical weapon canister or artillery shell can kill or injure scores of friendly forces.

Second, bio-chem weapons are not as effective as many believe. Those agents must be dispersed in careful fashion or their effectiveness drops off dramatically. They are ineffective in freezing temperatures and less and less effective in hotter temperatures. Any wind disperses the agents and reduces its effectiveness—an unexpected shifting wind can even blow the agent back into the faces of the very troops that employed it! Most chemical agents can easily be washed away and diluted with water, and most military clothing can block bio-chem agents. An effective defense against all but a direct, concentrated attack is simply fresh air, sunshine, and soap and water.

Bio-chem weapons are by design weapons of terror more than effective warfighting tools. In high concentrations on unprotected troops who cannot get out of the contaminated area, they can definitely kill or injure. But their real value is area denial by the use of fear—a soldier is not likely to enter a contaminated area if he feels he’ll be killed by some unseen chemical agent or bug, even if the actual threat is small. Bio-chem weapons are also designed to cripple the enemy by creating living casualties that must be helped and treated, thereby using up more and more of your resources in transporting and caring for living victims.

Third, the use of bio-chem weapons on a battlefield immediately changes all the rules. A terrorist or criminal who kills a hostage is seen in the eyes of law enforcement or the military as capable of killing many more at any time, and therefore he gives away any hope of negotiation or compromise. Similarly, friendly forces will assume that any enemy that uses weapons of mass destruction against them as maniacal or homicidal, and will therefore use every weapon and every effort to stamp out the enemy—even using weapons of mass destruction themselves. Using a bio-chem weapon against Coalition forces is a guaranteed “suicide-by-Coalition” move.

As I portrayed in my novel Chains of Command, I have no doubt that planners have aircraft and weapons standing by to destroy all known Iraqi military bases with small-yield thermonuclear or enhanced-radiation devices if Saddam Hussein decides to use bio-chem weapons against Coalition forces. As a TV commentator during the Persian Gulf War of 1991, in the news room received minute-by-minute reports, I remember starting a stopwatch when I received the alert of a suspected chemical weapon attack against Israel (which turned out to be false). I was sure than no more than sixty minutes later—F-15 flying time from Israel to Baghdad—that an Israeli nuclear device would destroy most of the Iraqi capital.

The bottom line: although the use of bio-chem weapons cannot be ruled out in this upcoming conflict, I do not believe the threat is that great, so I don’t believe that we would be limited to fighting only in cooler seasons.

Fallacy #3: The United States is committed to fighting Iraq, no matter what happens in the United Nations, in NATO, in the White House, on Capitol Hill, or in the hearts and minds of the American people. We’ve come too far and committed too many forces to turn back; we’d be perceived as weak, indecisive, and unreliable if we didn’t attack now.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Does anyone believe that the U.S. would go to war if Saddam Hussein suddenly gave up and escaped to Egypt or Saudi Arabia and demanded protection? We would possibly send in some troops to help guard the new Iraqi government and to set up bases to disarm and monitor the Iraqi army, but there would be no full-scale attack. Or do you think we would attack if the Iraqi army suddenly turned on Saddam and the Republican Guard, staged a massive coup, and set up its own provisional government? Of course not.

So it is possible to mobilize 200,000 troops for war—and then not send them in to fight.

Somehow, someone is pushing the notion that the U.S. military is some kind of rumbling, bumbling juggernaut that, once set in motion, is impossible to slow down or stop quickly. That’s nonsense.

The same folks may have thought that, once the Berlin Wall came down, that the U.S. Army would sweep into East Germany and take over all of the Communist military bases it had planned to destroy for so many decades. It didn’t happen. The same people may have thought that it would be impossible for the U.S. government to clear its airspace and order every aircraft flying over the United States of America to land immediately. Yet right after the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, that’s exactly what happened: every aircraft in the sky over the entire United States was on the ground within 15 minutes of the order to land. I participated in military exercises where hundreds of aircraft all around the globe launched at precisely the same instant on a simulated World War Three combat scenario.

Anything is possible with well-trained, highly disciplined forces under your command. Tell them to go and get ready to fight, and they will. Tell them to climb into the cockpit, start engines, taxi to the hold line, and prepare for takeoff, and they will.

But it doesn’t mean they will fight just because they are ready to do so. Tell them to fight, and they will; tell them to wait, and they will; tell them to stand down, and they will do so. Gratefully.

Will it show the world that the United States is indecisive, uncoordinated, unreliable, incompetent, or even cowardly if we don’t attack Iraq?

No warrior is a coward if he is ordered not to fight, and he obeys.

To the contrary, I think the United States shows its power, fortitude, and the strength of its political and military command and control system if we get ready for a battle but don’t carry through at the last second. No ally should be afraid that the U.S. won’t come to its aid. Instead, I think it would show that the President of the United States, a civilian, is firmly in control of the world’s greatest fighting force, a quality that I would be proud to point out to anyone.

Wouldn’t it be a huge waste of money to send all those troops to the Persian Gulf and then not use them?

It would be an even bigger waste of resources to allow even one soldier to die in a war we were not ready to win at all costs. Better not to fight rather than conduct a war that did not have the approval of the entire administration and the American people.

But will President Bush want to withdraw at this point? Hasn’t he invested so much political and personal capital at this juncture to make even the notion of compromise or inaction impossible?

That is a political and moral question, not a military one. Unlike President William Jefferson Clinton, I believe President George W. Bush to be a moral and forthright person, someone with strong character and high personal standards. I believe he will put the good of the nation above his own ego. If he believes it better not to fight, he will not order the battle to begin, no matter what it might do to his public perception or legacy.

But if he feels that the danger to America is serious, no matter what the temperature is in Iraq or no matter what the sky conditions are, he will order American forces to fight.

And fight they will—no matter how uncomfortable or risky it might be. Day, night, cool, hot, high, low, or in between—if it might make America safer, we will fight.

Be vigilant, be safe, and stay informed.

See you in March!

GBA, Dale Brown

Robert Gottlieb
Trident Media Group
(212) 262-4810

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