when it comes, the force will be breathtaking

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    When it comes, the force will be breathtaking
    February 16 2003
    The Sun-Herald

    It's mid-March and US President George Bush has given the order to invade Iraq. With the help of military experts and government sources, Frank Walker investigates how the subsequent attack could unfold.

    It is the opening minutes of the attack. Missile after missile is launched from dozens of US warships in the Persian Gulf. Planes flying high over Iraq drop dozens of "smart bombs" that will find their way to their targets.

    The next 48 hours will see the greatest barrage of guided missiles and target-seeking bombs in history, with 800 cruise missiles and 3000 smart bombs dropped from high-flying warplanes such as the B-2 stealth bomber.

    The Pentagon planners dubbed this unceasing onslaught of the missiles "Shock and Awe".

    Never before has the world seen such a display of high-tech military might. Every 45 seconds, guided missiles and the smart bombs - effectively mini-missiles that use laser guidance to seek out their targets - scream across Iraqi territory.

    The attack continues day and night. These weapons can find their targets by checking visually as well as against global positions gleaned from months of satellite and high-flying surveillance.

    The missile barrage is designed to destroy Saddam Hussein's forces' will to fight, rather than destroy them physically.

    Their targets are military and government strategic points such as communications centres, anti-aircraft units, missile launchers, airfields, military command posts, munitions depots, tank bases, electricity and water pumping stations and headquarters of the elite Republican Guard.

    Iraq's army has 375,000 troops - less than half what it was in the first Gulf War. But the vast majority are conscripts who are expected to flee, as they did in 1991.

    The real danger is the 88,000-strong Republican Guard,carefully selected crack troops which Saddam uses to suppress dissent.

    Saddam also has 15,000 extremely loyal troops in his personal bodyguard, the Special Republican Guard. These crack troops are the prime target.

    The cruise missiles of today are far better than the cruise missiles of 1991. Even though the military loved showing them dropping into the front doors of enemy buildings, the reality was that many missed.

    New targeting technology already tried in Kosovo and Afghanistan demonstrated today's smart bombs rarely miss their target. One US general bragged they fell within three metres of their target every time.

    While missiles scream overhead special forces units, probably including Australia's SAS, speed to dozens of preselected positions deep inside Iraqi territory.

    They include suspected depots of chemical and biological weapons, missile launchers, airfields, oilfields and possible hide-outs for Saddam Hussein.

    Their job is not to fight, but to stayhidden and observe and pinpoint targets for the next wave of air attacks.

    IT IS the second day of the attack. As missiles obliterate their targets, heavy bombers such as the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress take off from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

    They reach Iraq to drop their enormous destructive power on Saddam's presidential palaces, suspected sites of biological and chemical weapons, strongholds of the Republican Guard, airfields and military bases.

    This is just the start of what Pentagon sources say will be the most intense air attack in history. The aim is to ensure there are no Iraqi forces willing to fight when allied troops cross the border.

    If SAS troops on the ground spot Iraqi demolition teams moving in to the oilfields, they will call in rapid strike force units, possibly including Australian commandos, to prevent them being destroyed as Kuwait's were in the 1991 war.

    It is the third day of the attack and the US unleashes the awesome power of 800 allied jet bombers gathered in the Gulf region. Air command in Kuwait is

    co-ordinating 1500 bombing missions every 24 hours.

    As well as hundreds of planes at bases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, one British and five US aircraft carriers are within strikingrange, each with 80 warplanes. Each pilot is stretched to the limit, doing three missions a day. They hit artillery units, tanks, fuel depots, bridges, dug-in troops and convoys.

    On the fourth or fifth day the 14 Australian F/A-18 Hornets join the raids on Iraqi troops and command posts. They have less sophisticated anti-missile defences than US strike aircraft and will be used once US bombers have taken out most of Iraq's surface-to-air missile posts.

    SAS and commando units are ready at a moment's notice to rescue downed pilots. The allies are anxious to avoid the situation they faced in 1991 when Saddam paraded captured British pilots and used them as human shields.

    IT IS the fifth day of the attack. The US 82nd and 101st Airborne parachute divisions strike from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey and seize airfields, oilfields, key strategic spots such as crossroads and bridges.

    They are high-powered fighting units with 16,000 crack soldiers and several hundred helicopters such as the fearsome Apache attack chopper, Black Hawks, Chinook transports, Kiowa armed reconnaissance helicopters, plus extensive air cover from jet fighters.

    It is the seventh day. In two massive thrusts, American Abrams and British Challenger tanks - both much improved since the Gulf War - pour over the border from Turkey in the north and Kuwait in the south.

    The 4th Infantry Division strikes from the north, racing to secure oil fields and surround Saddam's stronghold towns of Mawsil, Kirkuk and Tikrit before moving on Baghdad.

    In the south, the 3rd Infantry Division and US Marines head north to take Basrah, Amarah and the oilfields. The force then splits, one heading north towards Baghdad, the other to secure the vast deserts of western Iraq.

    Iraq has an estimated 2200 Russian T-72 tanks, but they won't try to fight the superior allied machinery in the desert. Iraqi tanks lost heavily in 1991. Instead, Saddam has ordered them dug in next to civilian homes and to fight only in urban areas.

    At some point the US command will have to decide whether to risk killing innocent civilians and bomb the tanks from the air, or hope they surrender as the allies take control of the country, or risk hand-to-hand fighting in city streets by going in to get them.

    As US troops go in, their commanders will be able to follow their every move with instant video links overlaid on the maps.

    The US has also developed new microwave weapons that knock out the electronics of vehicles and computer-driven hardware.

    PENTAGON planners hope the awesome firepower will end the war in 10 days or less. The last thing the US wants is the sight of allied soldiers going home in a box.

    The main fear is that Saddam would use the chemical or biological weapons they believe he has. The US has threatened to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

    The risk for the US is that Saddam will prove every bit as elusive as Osama bin Laden and escape, or hide in a deep bunkerfortress.

    The weapons that the US has to get him if he is hiding in a deep bunker are truly terrifying.

    A new cluster bomb releases 4000 titanium rods, which cut through super-reinforced bunkers so the blast can reach deep inside an underground complex.

    A new incendiary bomb creates a firestorm so intense that water cannot extinguish it.

    And there is talk of a new

    mini-nuclear bomb, designed to penetrate deep underground with a series of conventional explosions before the nuclear device explodes well inside the bunker.

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