U.S. Air Attack to Be a Web of Missions

American military planners hope to leave Iraqi commanders in such "shock and awe" on "A-Day," when an American air attack begins, that resistance will be broken by the time troops sweep into the country in the ensuing days.

It may sound straightforward, but it's not.

Accomplishing almost instantly what took 38 days of air assaults to achieve before 1991's Operation Desert Storm will involve unprecedented amounts of coordination between air combat commanders, spy planes, satellites, bombers, attack craft, unmanned aerial vehicles, refueling planes and maybe even special forces on the ground, analysts say.

And after a full-fledged U.S. ground invasion, coordinating the effort may get even more complicated.

"The idea," said retired Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley, an ABCNEWS consultant, "is to incapacitate the Iraqi military, induce large parts of it to give up without a fight, severely degrade if not eliminate the ability of the Iraqi leadership to communicate with both their armed forces and their population, and render those parts of the Iraqi military that do choose to fight ineffective before they encounter coalition ground forces."

It may sound like a tall order, but say experts, U.S. air and space power are so dominant, it could happen.

‘Pity’ for the Enemy

Although for years the United States and its 1991 coalition allies have been bombing Iraq's northern and southern "no-fly zones," set up after the Gulf War, the air campaign in a full-fledged war should be much different.

"Keep in mind that what we have been doing for the past 10 years … is very small-scale air operations," said Hawley, the former commander of Air Combat Command, the Air Force's largest command, and of U.S. air forces in Europe. "These are operations that involve handfuls of airplanes at a time. Therefore, we have been able to be sure that those airplanes are very well protected when they are in Iraqi airspace.

"What we will want to establish [in an all-out war] is conditions where attack airplanes can function almost independently from that type of support," said Hawley, who does not have any advance knowledge of U.S. war plans.

To gain such air dominance, the A-Day assault is expected to unleash a barrage of thousands of precision missiles to stun Iraq's forces. It also will use far more planes than the no-fly-zone attacks, with massive support from air, ground, sea and space — "the ultimate high ground," according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Franklin J. Blaisdell.

"Whether it's Iraq or any enemy of the United States and its allies, I would tell you that we are so dominant in space that I pity a country that would come up against us," Blaisdell told reporters last week, referring to U.S.-controlled satellites used for space-based surveillance, navigation, communication and targeting.

"The synergy with air, land and sea forces, and our ability to control the battle space and seize the high ground is devastating," he added. "And so, many of [America's enemies], unfortunately, don't really understand how powerful we are."

Web of Missions

Supported by the space-based assets — and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planes also feeding data to a command center — American attack planes will fly complicated, coordinated patterns over areas where Saddam Hussein has held firm control since the Gulf War, and is believed to have built "a very robust air defense system," Hawley said.

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