British officials, providing an unusual glimpse of the intensity of the aerial bombardment of Iraq, said yesterday that an Iraqi ammunition depot south of Baghdad was targeted yesterday by 40 1,000-pound bombs and that two other targets had been struck by 86 1,000-pound bombs.

The magnitude of these assaults on just three targets in Iraq, out of the hundreds struck during the first 20 days of combat, helps explain why the launching of more than 47,000 air sorties by coalition forces has still only begun to destroy Iraq's military capability. Wiping out a single target can sometimes require a huge load of explosives and many aircraft, officials say.

Each of the bombs used in these raids is capable of creating craters 35 feet wide and spreading deadly shrapnel to a radius of 600 feet, which suggests the targeted facilities were extremely large or that target planners expected them to be highly resilient.

Judging from the number of bombs dropped, the raids involved at least 25 Tornado bombers, plus additional aircraft for fighter protection, refueling and necessary jamming of Iraqi radars and air defenses. The total number of aircraft easily might have been 50 or more, several experts said -- just to pound three targets.

The British disclosure helps bridge the gap between announcements that thousands of pounds of allied munitions have been dropped in more than 2,000 combat sorties each day and statements by senior military leaders that bomb damage is only limited or uncertain.

Other military officials involved in the war generally have been reluctant to provide details of how the aerial bombardment of Iraq is being conducted. They have said the information might play into the hands of Iraqi air defense commanders.

Only rarely have officials publicly linked weapons with specific targets or hinted at the makeup of what target planners refer to as a "strike package" of attack aircraft. Precise target-selection procedures remain shrouded from public view, complicating debate over such sensitive issues as inadvertent or "collateral damage" from the bombing campaign.

Even the precise number of targets struck each day is considered secret, and officials will not say how many of these targets are being struck for the second, third or fourth time.

What officials do say is that the business of matching weapons with targets is a complex process largely delegated to specialists who work for Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the military forces arrayed against Iraq in Saudi Arabia.

Planning is done largely by computer, and hundreds of experts are assigned to help coordinate such tasks as the loading and refueling of aircraft or the clearing of airspace to accommodate the firing of immense shells from a battleship offshore, such as the USS Missouri that hit an Iraqi artillery battery yesterday.

Air Vice Marshal William Wratten, commander of British forces in the Middle East, Monday described target planning as a "highly specialized and selective" process in which "all actions and reactions which the Iraqis have made, using all sources of intelligence available to the commanders, have been fused together" to gain maximum military effectiveness.

Officials said the targeting plan is not a single, unvarying document written before the war began, as suggested by repeated comments from various U.S. commanders that everything is proceeding "according to schedule." It is instead a constantly changing series of documents that reflect the latest battlefield triumphs and failures as well as the military goals set before the war began.

While many officials have said each bomb is precisely matched to its potential target, so that collateral damage is kept to a minimum, several privately said the selection is more art than science. According to an official tally, the U.S. Air Force alone has been dropping 16 types of munitions from eight types of aircraft, but the number of each model being used, and the associated rates of successful strikes, have not been divulged.

Specific weapons and aircraft used depend on the type of target, the weather and the nature of any Iraqi air defenses, officials said. But some choices in the fast-paced war can also reflect which munitions and air crews are available at the right time and place to go after a particularly high-priority target, they added.

Attempts are made after each bombing raid to assess success by using a combination of satellite and airborne reconnaissance. For high-priority targets, damage assessments can be made at the edge of a runway in special trailers equipped to receive and analyze video or still photos by returning bombers.

Other assessments are made by Defense Intelligence Agency specialists working around-the-clock at the National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington's Navy Yard at 1st and M Streets SW, several officials said.

When more than one weapon is available to do the job, suspicions arise inside and outside the Pentagon that the choice is influenced by rivalries between services whose commanders are well aware that future budgets will be influenced by their performance in the war.

On Monday, the first combat firing of the battleship Missouri's mammoth 16-inch guns since 1953 provoked some jokes around the Pentagon, coming as it did on the day the Defense Department announced the vessel would be decommissioned later this year due to budget constraints.

"Are we really that good {as to coordinate the simultaneous firing and decommissioning announcement}?" a Navy official said he asked a colleague stationed in the Persian Gulf. But the reply from the gulf claimed total ignorance about budget battles a half a world away, the Navy official said.

Staff researcher Ralph Gaillard Jr. contributed to this report.


Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs) are metal bombs filled with "bomblets." When a CBU is dropped from an airplane, the casing opens and the contents are scattered over the target area. The CBU-89, for example, is a 700-lb. weapon that disperses anti-tank and anti-personnel bomblets. Bomblets become armed on impact, and serve as mines to keep vehicles and personnel out of the area. The CBU-89 can be dropped from any altitude between 200 and 40,000 feet.

Other weapons of this type used in Operation Desert Storm: CBU-87 and CBU-52/58/71. Anti-Armor Cluster Bombs

Bombs of this type include the 476-lb. Rockeye, a weapon filled with hundreds of 2-lb. bomblets that destroy tanks. One Rockeye, released from an altitude of 500 feet, can saturate 1.2 acres with fragments of the armor-piercing steel. AGMs

Air-to-Ground missiles include such weapons as the High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), weighing about 800 lbs. and carrying a high-explosive warhead. Dropped from an airplane, the missile flies at speeds exceeding Mach 3, homing in on the radar energy emitted from its target. Its 145-lb. warhead contains thousands of small metal cubes that spray out upon detonation to damage radar antennas and other fragile equipment. HARM missiles were crucial in the first days of the war, taking out key enemy radar sites.

Others weapons of this type used in Operation Desert Storm: AGM-45 (Shrike) and AGM-65 (Maverick). LASER-GUIDED BOMBS

Aircraft employing these weapons bounce a laser beam off the target. The bombs glide toward the target following the reflected beam. A bomb of this type is the GBU-10, a 14-foot-long weapon used extensively against targets in Iraq. The 2,000-lb. warhead detonates on impact, disintegrating a thick steel casing and releasing a blast created by 945 lbs. of high explosives.

Other weapons of this type used in Operation Desert Storm: GBU-12, GBU-24 and GBU-27.


Infrared and electro-optically guided bombs have been used repeatedly against Iraqi strategic sites. The GBU-15, for example, uses a 2,000-lb. warhead that can be fitted with either guidance system and will explode on impact. When the infrared method is used, the bomb homes in on heat sources identified by the bombardier and programmed into the bomb's guidance package. When electro-optical guidance is used, the bomb carries a television camera in the nose and an antenna in the tail. The Weapons Systems Officer aboard the bomber flies the weapon to the target, "steering" it with a joystick. A typical bomb of this type can blast away more than 8,500 cubic feet of material, leaving a hole the size of a large suburban swimming pool. GENERAL-PURPOSE BOMBS

These conventional bombs have thick metal casings filled with explosive material to ensure penetration of a target. The MK-84 bomb of this type weighs 2,000 lbs. and can form a crater 50 feet in diameter and 36 feet deep. Depending on the altitude from which it is dropped, the bomb can penetrate 15 inches of metal or 11 feet of concrete and disperse shrapnel to a radius of 400 yards.

Other weapons of this type used in Operation Desert Storm: MK-82 and MK-117.

Compiled by James Schwartz -- The Washington Post