Suche innerhalb des Archivs / Search the Archive All words Any words

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[] LAT 25.03.03: The Team That Picks The Targets,

Los Angeles Times
March 25, 2003
Pg. 1

The Team That Picks The Targets

Planners tout weapons' high-tech precision but admit mistakes are made.

By Kim Murphy and Alan C. Miller, Times Staff Writers

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia --In a squat aluminum building deep in the desert, 
U.S. Air Force Col. Doug Erlenbusch oversees a team of men and women who 
recommend the targets to be bombed in Baghdad, more than 650 miles away.

Erlenbusch and his crew at the $45-million Combined Air Operations Center 
weigh which houses and office buildings in the Iraqi capital belonging to 
Saddam Hussein's leadership will be turned to rubble and, consequently, who 
lives and who dies.

The staff of the 28,400-square-foot air combat nerve center is guided by 
artificial eyes: more than 3,000 computers, bristling nests of antennas, 
walls of huge video screens, satellite links and 128,000 feet of 
high-speed-data cable.

Most of the thousands of pounds of munitions that have fallen on Baghdad 
since Thursday have hit their targets.

But Pentagon officials warn that even the highest-tech targeting, in a war 
that already has involved more than 6,000 combat missions, will 
occasionally go wrong -- and the wrong people will die.

"Sooner or later, it's close to inevitable you're going to hit something 
with serious collateral damage when you drop this many guided weapons," 
said Franklin C. "Chuck" Spinney, a tactical air analyst at the Pentagon.

Iraq says at least three civilians have been killed and hundreds injured in 
the airstrikes on Baghdad.

Commanders of the U.S.-led forces face a daunting challenge in targeting 
Baghdad, a city of nearly 5 million people.

They seek to inflict enough damage to compel the most entrenched Iraqi 
forces to surrender while avoiding civilian casualties, which would inflame 
antiwar sentiment at home and anti-Americanism abroad.

Erlenbusch says the media images of the bombing of Baghdad in the opening 
hours of the air war provided the world with barely a hint of the size of 
the attack. "You have no idea of the vastness of that attack," he said. 
"Looking out of the window of a hotel is like looking through a soda straw."

The targets hit in the opening days of the war have been in Pentagon 
planners' sights for years. Since the conclusion of the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq 
has remained a potential theater of operations for U.S. military planners, 
and specific bombing sites have been identified, analyzed, measured and mapped.

"We already knew where the Iraqi military headquarters were. It wasn't a 
pull-it-out-of-the-seat-of-your-pants thing," said Erlenbusch, a 1979 
graduate of Cal State Fullerton and a former fighter pilot who commands the 
609th Combat Plan Squadron.

Erlenbusch reports to Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, commander of U.S. 
Central Command Air Forces, who is running the air war from his "battle 
cab" on the second floor of the air operations center. From their perch, 
senior officers look out a glass window to the hubbub and flashing 
electronic screens of the operations floor below.

Erlenbusch and his Guidance Apportionment and Targeting Team arrived at the 
air operations center in February with a full set of potential targets that 
they then had to analyze: Were they still legitimate targets? How close 
were they to civilian structures? What was the minimum level of explosive 
necessary to destroy them? Could the U.S.-led forces afford to cripple 
them, rather than destroy them? How would the necessary tankers, airlift, 
transport and support planes be factored into the battle plan on a 
minute-by-minute basis?

"The humanitarian piece, the collateral damage piece, I think it would 
probably blow the minds of a lot of folks to think how much time and effort 
goes into minimizing the weaponeering," Erlenbusch said.

The team has worked seven days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day to refine 
targets, along with the weapons, aircraft and, in some cases, the flight 
paths necessary to take them out.

Air Force officials have declined to discuss their techniques to avoid 
schools, homes and hospitals that may be near intended targets, but one key 
aspect is a computer program. The process begins with precise coordinates 
of the proposed target -- beamed electronically to the air operations 
center from surveillance aircraft, unmanned aircraft, ground observers or 
other intelligence.

The program produces a "weaponeering solution," which calculates the 
precise effects likely to occur on the target and surrounding properties, 
depending on what kind of explosive is used.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Hubert said planners calculate the expected radius of 
the bomb blast and then make sure an area up to 10 times larger is clear of 
civilians. New technology also helps protect noncombatants.

"One of the primary things you need to remember, I was over here in '91, 
and the generation of weapons that has evolved since '91 is a magnitude of 
accuracy higher," said Navy Capt. Russ Penniman, who is Erlenbusch's 
night-shift counterpart in combat planning.

To reduce problems in case the bomb falls long or short of the target, 
planners sometimes specify which angle bombers must use.

"That's not to say there's not going to be accidents, there's not going to 
be a car driving by or a weapon that doesn't guide, but those accidents are 
a part of war," Erlenbusch said.

Once the target team comes up with a set of proposals, they go to another 
team to develop the master attack plan.

Starting with Moseley's overall strategy for the day, the teams look at 
which aircraft are available and then develop a plan.

Sometimes, the best-laid plans have to be set aside for a sudden opportunity.

On the eve of the start of the air war, target planners got wind that 
Hussein might be at a presidential compound in Baghdad -- which forced the 
operations center team to rapidly process targeting information and assign 

"That was intelligence that gave us the ability to strike at that target. 
It was done in a matter of hours," Erlenbusch said.

"Those first strikes were totally off the cuff. From the point where units 
were called who were in crew rest, 'Get an airplane, do you have the planes 
loaded?' 'No, we don't. Yeah, we do.' 'OK, brief it, fly it.' And it 
happens. That quick. We're talking hours."

Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, when only about 10% of the weapons used were 
precision-guided, on the first night in Baghdad only precision-guided 
munitions were used, an Air Force spokesman said. Overall, the weapons make 
up more than 90% of the munitions dropped in the war.

Current and former defense officials say that as the air campaign in 
Baghdad and elsewhere proceeds, and the target list widens, the probability 
of one or more devastating misfires will rise.

Some Pentagon officials said that though the precision-guided missiles are 
far more accurate than conventional bombs most of the time, when they 
malfunction they are prone to going farther off course.

The greatest danger, they say, is a mechanical or electrical failure or 
human mistake that sends the weapon far from its intended destination. Some 
defense analysts refer to these as "gross errors."

In Afghanistan, for instance, a U.S. Special Forces air controller 
inadvertently gave his own hilltop coordinates in his global positioning 
unit in December 2001. As a result, a B-52 dropped a 2,000-pound 
satellite-guided bomb on his position, killing three Green Berets and 25 
Afghan allies and wounding Hamid Karzai, who was named the country's 
interim prime minister later that day.

Even when the right target is hit, the results can be catastrophic. During 
the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. struck a building believed to be a military 
command and control bunker in Baghdad. The Iraqis were using it as a 
residential bomb shelter, and hundreds of civilians were killed.

In 1999, a U.S. pilot mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade 
based on a bad map. The intended target was the Yugoslav Federal 
Directorate of Supply and Procurement.

"The bottom line is this: You can never guarantee you're not going to have 
civilian casualties," said retired Air Force Gen. Charles A. Horner, who 
commanded the U.S. air campaign in the 1991 Gulf War.

"You never know who's in the building. We do everything that's within our 
power to mitigate unintentional damage and civilian casualties. But war is 
ugly and messy."

Murphy reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Miller from Washington.

Liste verlassen: 
Mail an infowar -
 de-request -!
- infopeace -
 de mit "unsubscribe" im Text.