How will the attack on Iraq differ from Operation Desert Storm? What equipment are United States Special Forces likely to be carrying? How are unmanned drones operated and to what extent will they be used in Iraq?
Andrew Koch, Washington Bureau Chief for Jane's Defence Weekly, was online to discuss the U.S. military and the equipment of war.
Prior to joining Jane's, Mr. Koch was a senior analyst tracking nuclear weapons and ballistic missile proliferation in the developing world, US/Russian strategic weapon systems, and security in South and Southwest Asia. He has worked at several U.S. think tanks, including the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterey, California, and the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C. In addition to his Bureau Chief responsibilities, Mr. Koch covers strategic issues, the U.S. Navy, and intelligence matters for Jane's Defence Weekly.
The transcript follows.
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Andrew Koch: Hello out there. Thanks for your questions.
Carrboro, N.C.: Do you think the preliminary airstrikes against Iraq last evening were part of a plan of operations drawn up long ago, or were they initiated at the last minute? It seems Saddam was targeted shortly before the attack was launched. The move reportedly came to the British as a surprise. But would this sort of rolling start to the air campaign have occurred without a specific attempt to decapitate the top Iraqi leadership?
Andrew Koch: Thanks for the good question. It does appear that last night's strike caught many, including some US and UK defense officials, by surprise. Therefore, I think its fair to take the administration at its word that a target of opportunity presented itself that was too good to pass-up. In many respects the war had already gotten off to a rolling-start with US special operations forces conducting surveillance and reconnaissance missions in Iraq looking for things like weapons of mass destruction facilities and key "leadership" locations. The ongoing psychological operations have also been underway for months and have been well publicized. They are very integral to the overall US strategy of seeking to separate Saddam Hussein, his senior leadership, and key Baath party members from "regular" Iraqi military forces and commanders.
Virginia: Comparing The Gulf War to this one (does this operation even have a name yet?) what upgrades in technology are we going to see in the battlefield?
Andrew Koch: Operation Iraqi Freedom, as the military is calling it, will be very different from the first Gulf War both in terms of the strategy and technology used by US forces. One of the key, though maybe less sexy, advances is information technology. Much like the US civilian public is vastly more connected electronically to our colleagues via email, the internet, wireless communications, and other information technology than we were a decade ago, so too is the US military. The IT and information revolution helps the military solve a key age-old question-what is know as the "fog of war"-that is: where is the enemy and where are my friends. US forces are now able to quick share information on where they are into a network, allowing then to locate their friends and coalition colleagues-its not a perfect system by any means, but far better than at any time in the past. That network also contains information from US sensors such as radar and unmanned drones on enemy locations. That is a huge difference compared to Iraqi soldiers who will quickly be cutoff from communicating with other Iraqi units and unable to determine where or when an attack from the US will be coming-in essence the goal will be to make them operationally blind and deaf.
San Rafael, Calif.: There will be heavy jamming of communications in Iraq. Are there new means of overcome this problem in the battlefield?
Andrew Koch: I do believe there will be very heavy jamming of communications in Iraq, the vast majority of which will be conducted by US troops. Information Operations, which includes things like jamming or taking over enemy communications networks, is expected to play a major role in US strategy. And while these type operations have occurred before, their significance many believe could signal how wars of the future are fought. Taking Iraq as an example-a key US goal is to keep Iraqi casualties and destruction of infrastructure to an absolute minimum. How do you do that? Well, one way is to whittle-down the size of an enemy's forces that you have to kill, "destroying" the others through other means that doesn't have to kill them. Maybe that is jamming their communications and leaving them out of the battle in the desert somewhere until their surrender can be secured. Maybe its making sure senior Iraqi leaders like Saddam Hussein can't send orders to troops to do things like blowing-up oil wells. thanks for the question
Virginia: Is Jane's on the ground in Kuwait?
Andrew Koch: Jane's does have several correspondents in the region, including in Kuwait. As you can imagine, communicating with them under the present circumstances can often be a difficult process. In many respects news organizations like ours are in a similar situation to the government--we have people at the source of what is happening, but trying to sort out truth on the ground and get that back to our readers quickly can often be difficult. The rapid dissemination of similar information by the government faces similar challenges, particularly in the age of instant images via TV.
Arlington, Va.: Were you surprised by the tepid beginning to the war last night? When do you expect the "shock and awe" phase to start?
Andrew Koch: I was a little surprised that the conflict would start so anti-climatically, but as I mentioned earlier I do believe that it was due to very perishable intelligence suggesting the US had a decent chance of hitting Saddam Hussein-clearly an opportunity not to be missed, even if that means carefully orchestrated war-planning schedules had to be altered. After all, getting rid of him appears to a top US objective of this conflict. I'm sure there are frantic readjustments going on now in the Pentagon and White House regarding any new timetables for when the really heavy bombing would start to create the "shock and awe" you mentioned.
Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: Isn't this exactly the kind of war where the recently cancelled Crusader artillery piece would have been useful? Our fast moving ground forces will need artillery support on the go in the coming weeks.
Andrew Koch: To listen to US military officials describe it, some of their equipment is "old" in terms of how long they can be serviced and maintained. However, even with older generation US systems the military is still extremely capable and vastly superior in technology terms to any other country's armed forces. All of the military services also have very carefully crafted plans to replace the older equipment. Crusader, which would have required a sizable amount of airlift to be deployed to any potential combat theatre, didn't fit into those plans. There are still some army officers who want the Crusader but that issue appears to be settled for now. In any event, it was still in development and couldn't have been ready for this conflict.
Greenwood Village, Colo.: Mr. Koch - What new technology will the US Military be using for the first time during this conflict? For example, the MOAB has received quite a bit of publicity. I'm interested in following how the latest weaponry performs under true combat conditions.
Andrew Koch: As with many conflicts, the U.S. military has speed up development of several weapon systems and concepts that would have otherwise not been available. The one you mentioned - the Massive Ordnance Air Burst MOAB bomb - would be used to scare the pants off frontline Iraqi troops. During the first Gulf War the U.S. dropped a slightly small bomb called the BLU84B Daisy Cutter on frontline Iraqi troops. The bombs create an enormous sound and shockwave that are described as terrifying weapons for nearby soldiers. These bombing campaigns were intermixed with drops of U.S. leaflets telling the Iraqis that the U.S. would be back with more such bombings the next day if the Iraqis didn't surrender. They did so in droves. The problem is that the Daisy Cutters have not been built in decades and the U.S. is almost out of them. So the MOAB will be a replacement.
Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Hello,
I was wondering what your guess is at to the accuracy of the reports that Patriot missiles have intercepted Iraqi missiles over Kuwait.
During the last Gulf War, the Pentagon said the older-model Patriot system was successful 90 percent of the time. Later, investigations showed that the success rate was much lower -- and known to the military. Now, the Army says it was closer to 30 percent, Congress says less than 10 percent, and independent analysts say about 1 percent. Turns out most of the Iraqi missiles were in such bad shape they landed way off the mark or broke up in flight on their own.
I respect the merits of a disinformation campaign during times of war, but should the media be accepting reports of Patriot successes without putting it into the context of earlier deception and cover-ups?
Andrew Koch: As you rightly noted, there was great confusion during the first Gulf War regarding the effectiveness of the Patriot. While its clear that currently fielded Patriot systems are much more capable than the ones from 1991, I think it's far too early to judge their effectiveness in the current operations. A good rule of thumb I like to use in military reporting is that if you insist on getting information immediately after an event, don't do expect it to be either complete or accurate. The government officials who often provide that information I have found tell the honest truth as they know it at the moment, but the information they have to work with always incomplete and often contradictory.