The opening salvos in the war to remove Saddam Hussein relied on
tried-and-true cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs dropped by Air
Force stealth fighter-bombers.
The attacks involved about three dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles
launched from Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, as well as
bombs dropped from a handful of F-117A Nighthawk stealth jets, military
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the attacks were not
a sign that the main air offensive against Iraq had begun. Rather, they
were approved by President Bush in response to time-sensitive intelligence
on the whereabouts of Iraqi leaders - presumably including Saddam.
Officials said it was possible that other limited attacks in various
parts of Iraq could be launched over the next day, even before the main
air assault begins.
Three of the Tomahawks were launched from the USS Donald Cook, a
destroyer in the Red Sea. The Navy released three pictures of the missiles
being launched just hours after the attack.
Introduced during the war with Iraq a dozen years ago, the Tomahawk is
still a technological wonder, able to fly at just under the speed of
sound, hugging the ground to deliver a 1,000-pound warhead onto a
The Navy probably has about 1,000 Tomahawks, which at about $600,000 a
pop are considered expensive.
Radar detection of the missile is extremely difficult because of the
small radar cross-section and low-altitude flight profile.
A next-generation Tomahawk adds the capability to reprogram the missile
while in-flight to strike any of 15 preprogrammed alternate targets.
The F-117A Nighthawk, the distinctive fighter-bomber that looks like a
bat, is the world's first operational aircraft designed to exploit stealth
technology that makes it difficult to detect with radar.
In the Gulf War a dozen years ago, the Nighthawk was the only U.S. or
coalition aircraft to strike targets in downtown Baghdad.
The F-117A program created a revolution in military warfare by
incorporating low-observable technology into operational aircraft.
Before Wednesday night's strike, a senior Air Force planner said U.S.
warplanes are likely to drop 10 times as many precision-guided bombs on
the first day of a war against Iraq as they did to open the 1991 Gulf
"I don't think the potential adversary has any idea what's coming,"
said Col. Gary Crowder, the chief of strategy at Air Combat Command, which
is responsible for all Air Force warplanes.
At a Pentagon news conference, Crowder said 300-400 precision-guided
weapons were dropped on the first day of the 1991 air war and suggested at
least 3,000 would be used on the first day this time.
War planning also has become much more efficient, Crowder said. In the
first Gulf war, U.S. warplanes attacked each element of Iraq's air
defenses in sequence - early warning radars, followed by air defense
operations bunkers, followed by airfields and surface-to-air missile sites
- before getting to the ultimate target: the Iraqi leadership.
This time, due to more accurate weapons and a fuller understanding of
targets in Iraq, the leadership will be attacked at the same time that
communications, transportation and air defense targets are bombed, Crowder
said. Examples of leadership targets are palaces and command centers
expected to be used by President Saddam Hussein and his senior
This more efficient approach is based in part on improved weapons
technology and more advanced means of matching weapon types with the kinds
of damage desired, Crowder said. For example, if the goal was paralysis of
the Iraqi electrical grid, the war planners might single out a small
number of power stations or transmission towers as targets rather than
striking every power station in the grid.
Crowder also said that the experience gained from patrolling "no fly"
zones over southern and northern Iraq since shortly after the first Gulf
war gives American and British forces a big advantage.
"Having lived over the no fly zones for the last 12 years, it is a
significantly less hostile place than it was in northern and southern Iraq
on the opening night of the (1991) Gulf war," he said.
"That simple fact will make the jobs of our men and women aircrews out
there doing this a whole lot easier," he added.
The routine of patrolling the zones also provides a form of cover for
allied aircraft preparing to launch an all-out air war.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. and British planes attacked nine military
targets in southern Iraq. The headquarters for allied air forces in the
Persian Gulf announced that the strikes were in response to Iraqi
The targets included long-range artillery near the southern city of
Basra and the nearby Al Faw peninsula near the Gulf coastline, plus three
military communications sites. Also targeted was a mobile early-warning
radar and an air defense command and control site at the H-3 airfield
complex in western Iraq near the Jordanian border.
U.S. aircraft also dropped nearly two million leaflets over southern
Iraq with a variety of messages, including, for the first time,
instructions to Iraqi troops on how to capitulate to avoid being