If he had been fighting a war here in the desert a few years ago, Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III would have been riding around in an armored vehicle with his head out the hatch, studying the battlefield with binoculars, taking reports by radio and scribbling troop positions on a map.

Now, if he gets the order to invade Iraq, he will be stationed inside a mobile command unit hermetically sealed against chemical attacks. He'll be staring at a bank of computer screens displaying the locations of all his units, the latest satellite imagery and a stream of intelligence from every U.S. agency, even as he cruises at 30 mph near the front lines.

"We're changing the way we do business," said Lt. Col. Peter Bayer, the general's chief operations officer, who would ride with Blount in the windowless armored vehicle, dubbed C{+2}V for command-and-control vehicle.

The second Persian Gulf War, should there be one, would be fought on the ground far differently from the first. While much attention has been focused on the improvements in Air Force precision bombs, technology in the Army has evolved dramatically as well and could be tested for the first time in the flat, seemingly endless terrain here and in southern Iraq.

The first general to put it into action could be Blount, a tall, even-tempered 31-year veteran from a family of soldiers who commands the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Two of his three brigades have already set up tents in five sprawling camps here in northern Kuwait, not far from the Iraqi border. The third will set off in a couple of days from Fort Stewart, Ga. Within two weeks, Blount will have nearly 19,000 troops at his disposal.

His 3rd Division and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force would be positioned to breach Iraq's southern defenses, likely becoming the first ground units to push straight across the border. The military might not be able to deploy a full-fledged invasion force until mid-February or March. But Blount said that, with the Marines now arriving, the military soon would have enough strength to launch a "rolling start" attack while other units were en route, if the command to move were to come from Washington.

Over the course of 41/2 hours this weekend, Blount and his top officers offered a glimpse of the buildup and preparations for a possible war at the division encampment just south of Iraq. Touring his high-tech command post, Blount described the array of armaments at his disposal and the concerns that are shaping his war plans, from possible chemical weapons attacks to urban combat in the blistering heat of the desert summer.

He commands 18 AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopters, more than 200 tanks, 250 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and "thousands and thousands" of other vehicles. He has heat-seeking Stinger missiles to shoot down Iraqi aircraft, smoke machines to confuse the enemy and 155mm howitzers to pound opposing forces.

"We've got a lot more firepower that we can bring to bear" than in past wars, Blount said.

In the air-conditioned tent that serves as his headquarters -- and which would roll toward the front lines behind Blount should the order to invade come -- there were reminders everywhere of what tasks might lie ahead. Taped to one side of the tent was a notice, "Scud Alert," with procedures for what to do in case of an Iraqi missile attack. Taped to the other side was a map of southern Iraq showing the major city of Basra, just a short ride up the main highway. A checklist of what to do in case of a chemical attack was also posted.

Outside, Camp New York is a quiet study in khaki -- even the latrines and satellite dishes are colored to match the desert. Only a few olive-green sandbags interrupt the color scheme.

Blount and his staff are trying to map out their role in a possible invasion -- which the general likened to "parallel planning. They tell us what they want us to do, and we tell them what we can do." Even then, he said, planning means only so much. "A plan is only good until the first shot is fired."

Bayer, the operations officer, said his greatest concern in planning is the "use of weapons of mass destruction." Although this division, like others in the U.S. military, says it is prepared to fight in an area that has come under chemical or biological weapons attack, Bayer acknowledged that "it would not be easy."

Another staff officer, Maj. Ross Coffman, fought in the last war here as a tank platoon leader in charge of four vehicles and 16 men. He said he is confident that new technology and new weaponry have given this force even more of an edge.

The first advantage Blount cites: the Longbow Apaches, an upgraded version of the Army's most lethal attack helicopter, so new that they were not used in the war in Afghanistan. The Longbows can automatically launch 16 laser-guided antitank missiles at two-second intervals. "Fire and forget," the military calls it.

The division also plans to employ an identification system never before used in combat to prevent the sort of "friendly fire" incidents that accounted for many of the casualties during the Gulf War of 1991. Every vehicle has been fitted to allow the military to spot it thermally and visually. Commanders down to the company level will have computer screens enabling them to track U.S. forces around them.

Some of the Humvee utility vehicles will also be safer than those used in the Gulf War, having been built with armor designed to deflect 7.62mm assault rifle rounds; some have rolled over land mines and absorbed little more damage than blown tires.

But for all the technological improvements, the 3rd Division left some of its best equipment at home. The division has deployed faster than other units in part because it had "pre-positioned" much of its hardware here in Kuwait, including its tanks and armored vehicles.

As a result, only about half of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles here have the advanced laser-targeting systems, for instance, leaving many younger soldiers who have trained with nothing else grumbling about having to use outmoded, unfamiliar equipment. While newer trucks at home have automatic transmissions, older ones here are standard, necessitating the Army to conduct driving school for a number of soldiers.

Blount acknowledged the problem, but said it would not hurt the division and noted that the tanks, and some other equipment left here, were in better condition than what remained at Fort Stewart. "I think it balances out," he said. "Where it makes a real difference we would bring the newer equipment."

Camp New York, like the four other makeshift bases spread out across the area, is a half-hour, off-road drive from the main highway, through the barren desert. It is so isolated that no attackers could approach without being noticed and so surrounded by berms and concrete barriers that it could not easily be infiltrated.

Yet Kuwaiti authorities just arrested a national guardsman as a suspected Iraqi spy. The man planned to poison the food supply for U.S. troops, according to Kuwaiti newspaper accounts. Army officers here said they use civilian contractors to provide their food but closely supervise its preparation.

Officers worry about their troops being forced to fight in the desert heat, should diplomacy delay any military action until later in the year. But they expressed confidence that the troops could fight in the height of summer, even while wearing heavy suits to protect them from chemical attacks. "We would try to do it for shorter periods of time," Blount said. "It's a condition. I wouldn't call it a constraint."

The 3rd Division has honed its expertise at desert warfare since the Gulf War, when, under the name of the 24th Infantry Division, it stabbed into Iraq to take on the Republican Guard. Ever since, it has routinely trained in the Kuwaiti desert -- in fact, 3,500 of its soldiers spent last summer here.

Blount has spent much of his career in the region, most recently a four-year stint in Saudi Arabia as the U.S. military adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah. On Sept. 11, 2001, Blount was at a military training course when his class was interrupted by live video of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. The class had been discussing Kuwait.

Army Sgt. Carlos Hernandez, of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade, sits atop an Abrams tank at sunset at Camp New York, in the Kuwaiti desert.Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, in his armored command vehicle with Lt. Col. Peter Bayer, chief operations officer.