U.S. intelligence analysts looking at two spy satellite snapshots of an Iraqi airfield this week found striking differences. In the first, several runways appeared to be pockmarked with large craters caused by a bombing raid, idling the surviving Iraqi fighters.

But in the second, taken a day or so later, no craters were evident and the Iraqi planes appeared to be operating again from reinforced bunkers. In the short time between the two images, U.S. officials say, Iraq had deployed trained teams of runway repair engineers using sand or dirt, a special quick-drying concrete and steel reinforcements stockpiled nearby.

The episode, which has been repeated at other Iraqi airfields, highlights what officials describe as the vexing resiliency and adaptability of Iraq's military forces.

By fixing runways, stringing new telephone cables, restoring antennas, replacing missile launchers, deploying extensive decoys and reestablishing command posts, Iraqi military commanders are trying to blunt some of the worst effects of the allied bombing, while attempting to wear out the patience of attacking forces and create a few openings for possible retaliation, U.S. officials say.

"We're dealing with an enemy that is resourceful, an enemy that knows how to work around problems, an enemy that is ingenious," Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. "They're in Baghdad trying to . . . work around us; trying to figure out where their weaknesses are and see if they have capability to fix those weaknesses."

The Iraqi strategy, which has so far had limited success, helps explain why U.S. officials now expect the battle for Kuwait probably to last months rather than weeks. Although many U.S. and allied pilots are reported to have successfully struck their targets, some Iraqi capabilities later have been restored through repairs or alternative operational methods. Other Iraqi forces have survived by remaining hidden in bunkers or under camouflage or by avoiding electronic emissions that would make them a target.

The Iraqi resiliency also explains why U.S. officials say they strongly oppose any pause in the fighting for possible peace talks. "Obviously many people believe . . . it would just afford him an opportunity to dig in deeper and to rebuild, and to retrench," State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said Friday.

Some U.S. officials also said the Iraqi resiliency raises questions about the feasibility of using airpower alone to oust Iraq's forces from Kuwait. If those forces can continue to withstand the bombardment, U.S. soldiers may have to wrest Kuwaiti territory in combat on the ground.

U.S. and allied commanders say they are trying to frustrate Iraq's recuperative powers by slowing their own efforts to destroy Iraqi targets or military capabilities outright. Instead of continuing to go after most of Iraq's air force and all command links, the allies are now stepping up attacks on supplies of war materiel. This "war of attrition" against Iraq should eventually expose unrepairable vulnerabilities, the commanders say.

Iraqi forces have responded to extensive air attacks on command links between Baghdad and Basra by stringing miles of new telephone cable, "much like AT&T coming in after a hurricane," one U.S. official said. With key military headquarters buried deep underground, Iraqi troops have swiftly replaced lost or damaged communications antennas with spare satellite dishes, pointed horizontally to provide new direct, high-frequency radio links.

Officials say they suspect Iraq has reacted to the destruction of some of its mobile Scud missile launchers by fabricating new ones, using large flatbed trucks and rudimentary electronic equipment. They also believe Iraq has erected fake missile launchers to divert attention and waste U.S. precision-guided munitions. Small trucks have also been sheathed in plywood to look like tanks.

Marshal Vladimir Mikhalkin, commander in chief of Soviet ground forces, rocket troops and artillery, said in Moscow yesterday that "Iraq's missile potential is not exhausted and they still have the necessary number . . . to carry on military action," the Reuter news service reported.

As major air defense radars have been destroyed, Iraqi forces have relied more heavily on jury-rigged systems stolen from Kuwait, including U.S. Hawk antiaircraft radars moved to sites around Baghdad. Powell last week noted a sharp drop in Iraqi radar emissions, which he said could be attributed partly to "clever operational security techniques . . . to keep us from knowing exactly what's going on or how badly they have been damaged."

At the heart of what Powell described as Iraqi efforts to "work around us" are an estimated 50,000 highly skilled Iraqi combat engineers, including many who received training from the British or the Soviets and practiced their skills during the 1980-88 war with Iran. "They are excellent problem solvers and will come back and do it right or make adaptations as needed," wrote Stephen C. Pelletiere and Douglas V. Johnson II of the Army War College about the lessons of that war.

The Iraqi effort is aided by the extensive stocks of equipment acquired in a $50 billion military spending binge during the last decade, officials say. Communications lines are "redundant" and "resilient," in Powell's words, while air defenses are "extremely large" and "sophisticated."

Modern construction crews and vehicles have been distributed to vital military installations and highways. A few Iraqi airfields, for instance, have been struck more than three times in a continuing battle of wits between attack aircraft and repair crews manning armored bulldozers and cement mixers.

"If you blow {up} a bridge or drop a bridge, they can repair that. If you cut a road, they can repair that. If you cut a runway, they can repair that. So you've got to return a number of times," Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, the operations director for the Joint Staff, told reporters Friday.

One official said the Iraqis already appear to have learned how to work around the JP-233, the principal weapon being used against airfields by the U.S.-led coalition forces. Dropped primarily by British Tornado bombers, the weapon includes parachute-equipped bomblets that explode on impact to create heaves, fractures and craters. It also includes fragmentation explosives and shaped, metal-piercing charges that land softly and are designed to detonate when repair crews approach.

But the official said Iraqi soldiers have been hunting down the delayed-fuse explosives and detonating them from a safe distance with machine guns; repairs can then be completed in 12 to 18 hours. Iraqi pilots have also been willing to skirt craters to use a fraction of the normal runway space for operations.

"The key for us is to keep breaking his forces faster than he can repair them while also eliminating his means of repair," said a U.S. official.

Type: British-made, low-altitude airfield attack weapon. Function: Designed to damage enemy airfields and delay repairs so that landings and takeoffs are interrupted for long periods of time. Description: The JP-233 is actually two complementary weapons ejected from a bomber at the same time: "cratering" bomblets that cause craters and cracks in concrete runways, and fragment-filled delayed-action mines that explode when moved. The cratering bomblets put runways out of commission. The mines keep repair machinery and personnel off the runways long after the attack is over. Background: Dropped from high-speed bombers flying at low altitudes, the JP-223 also can be used against road networks, convoys of vehicles and supply depots. Compiled by James Schwartz -- The Washington Post SOURCE: Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems