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Iraq: Strikes On Iraq Use Latest Weaponry

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, 18 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Following is an interview describing the high-technology weaponry the United States and Britain are using in air strikes against Iraq.

The interview is with Paul Beaver, an expert on military technology at Jane's Publishing Group in London. The Group publishes internationally-recognized magazines on defense-related issues.

Q: The United States and Britain have said they are bringing new high-technology weaponry to bear in their strikes against Iraq, which makes it very difficult for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces to respond to the attacks. Could you describe this weaponry?

A: There is no doubt that there is not only an overwhelming technological advantage that the United States and the United Kingdom have here, but this is an advantage which has grown fourfold since (the Gulf War of) 1991, and Saddam Hussein has really not been able to (develop) his capability at all during the same period. If you just look at the systems that are involved, the cruise missiles that are being used, these are new, third-generation cruise missiles, they are called Block 3, they have a much better capability of hitting targets, they are more accurate, they are more robust, they are more reliable, they can go farther, into targets as well as across the countryside. They are now about 90 percent reliable as opposed to being about 50 percent reliable during the Gulf War, so that is an immediate change in capabilities. The British are using a new bomb, a 2,000 pound (1,000 kilogram) bomb, laser guided, called Paveway 3, which has a seeker head (at the tip) which can detect laser light which is fired from another aircraft to light up a target. The bomb is encased in steel to make it heavier so it actually penetrates concrete and goes through bunkers, again a technology that was not really (available) during the Gulf War. So those are just two examples of the way the technology has improved. And other examples, of course, are the fact that when a strike is launched, for instance, by 12 British Tornado (bombers), there are 150 electronic and support aircraft with them, rescue aircraft, (refueling) tankers, etc. Iraq just has nothing like this at all, it is not a battle between equals, the only thing that the Iraqis have which is very effective against cruise missiles is a barrage of anti-aircraft artillery, that is, simple guns (technology) developed a hundred years ago which is actually still as effective against cruise missiles as (anti-missile) missiles themselves.

Q: How accurately can the allies know that they have hit their targets, so they don't have to return to them again and again?

A: The British have developed a system called the Vikon Pod, which is a special camera pod which takes oblique and vertical photographs. It is (carried) underneath Tornado Bomber aircraft, it can either take photographs immediately after the attack, within seconds of the attack, or special missions can be flown in order to do that. The Americans have got the Keyhole Satellites which can photograph with a resolution down to two meters, and the high-flying U2 aircraft as well. If you put all of these together, you create a picture from which you can do the battle damage assessment.

Q: And from what altitude is the battle damage assessment being done, for example, by the Tornado Bombers?

A: From various altitudes. I think to give away too much operational data would not be in the best interest of the crews who are flying. But it is possible to get pictures at medium level altitudes, low level, or high level. The resolution is excellent. And in particular on days when clouds or fog may cover the area of the targets, low-flying aircraft or medium-altitude flying aircraft are the best solution, and that is what the British do well.

Q: There has been much speculation in Iraq that the strikes must come to an end with Ramadan. What is your opinion of that?

A: I was listening to the British Defense Secretary today who was not exactly saying that. He was saying that the (allies) are mindful of the significance of the holy month of Ramadan ... I think that the Americans may well look for a way out of this (problem) by saying that at night the fast is broken and from my experience in the Middle East at night there can be quite a festive atmosphere. I think the Americans do not want to spoil that with bombing but (the argument that the fast is broken) may be a way out of the (problem). There is no doubt at all that (the allies) will put maximum effort toward trying to get the strikes (completed) by the start of Ramadan (which begins on Saturday at the earliest) ... But George Robertson, the British Defense Secretary, said that Saddam Hussein is a risk to Muslim people as well as to other people in the world, so it is in the interest of (the Muslims) as well that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are destroyed.