Operation Allied Force began in March with an unprecedented NATO air campaign pitting top-line fighters and bombers, including the B-2, against a supposedly high-tech air-defense system. But weather has stopped more bombing sorties than antiaircraft missiles. Many of the missiles and smart bombs dropped by NATO rely on laser or television targeting. Low clouds and fog can obscure targets. Rather than risk collateral damage or civilian deaths, NATO pilots abort their missions if targets can’t be acquired. Serbs figured this out quickly and, within a week, were using smudge pots and oil fires to screen suspected targets.
This same problem hampered sorties in the Iraqi war. Defense Dept. officials are unwilling to say, however, whether any lessons learned in that conflict are being applied over Yugoslavia. DoD officials also declined to say what steps are being taken to overcome current weapon limitations. But the DoD does acknowledge the need for new technology as a motive for reform.
“Shrinking defense dollars, aging warfighting equipment, increasing maintenance costs, and miles of bureaucratic paperwork. These and a host of other problems are the propellers driving Defense Reform Initiative efforts,” William P. Houley, director, Defense Reform Office, said last May.
Nevertheless, there is a new generation of weapons on the drawing board that may overcome some of these limitations. They include the F-22 Raptor, a fighter/ bomber with improved stealth, and several advanced versions of current missiles, including the Tomahawk and HARM. Improvements in satellite reconnaissance and battlefield communications might make possible real-time intelligence and GPS technology for hitting mobile targets.
The Harrier GR-7, the latest version of the vertical take-off and landing jet first built in 1978, is being flown by British pilots over Yugoslavia. Four rotating nozzles direct thrust from the jet’s Rolls-Royce Pegasus engine (up to 21,500 lb of thrust) to let it take off and land vertically and slice through the sky at more than 700 mph. The plane has nine weapon stations — four under the wings, three on the belly of the fuselage, and two dedicated to heat-seeking, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles. It can carry up to 7,000 lb of weapons or stores for vertical take-offs and up to 17,000 lb for short-field take-offs. The single-seat Harriers were built by McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace. The GR-7 models carry thermal imaging equipment for accurate night attacks.
The Tomahawk (BGM-109) is a long-range, subsonic cruise missile built by Raytheon Systems Co., Tucson, that can attack land targets or be configured as an antiship weapon. The missile can be launched from surface ships or submerged submarines. Land-attack versions, such as those fired at Yugoslavian targets, employ a combination of inertial guidance, GPS-based seekers, TERCOM, or terrain following, infrared mapping, and DSMAC (in which the missile follows a high-resolution satellite image of the target area). The missile scores direct hits 85% of the time. And its accuracy is such that it will fly through a one-meter square window at the target at a predesignated time. A solid-fuel rocket booster gets the missile airborne. A Williams F107 turbojet engine rated at 600 lb of thrust accelerates it to 550 mph for up to 1,550 miles.
Tomahawks can carry 1,000 lb of high explosives, nuclear warheads, or serve as cluster bombs, releasing a rain of baseball-sized bomblets over soft targets such as soldiers, trucks, buildings, and lightly-armored military vehicles. In the Gulf War, it dropped spools of carbon-carbon fiber over Iraqi power plants and electric switching stations. The resulting shorts brought down Iraq’s electrical grid. Next-generation Tomahawks will be able to do battle damage assessment, in-flight retargeting, and let missions be planned from the launch platform. Currently, targeting data goes via satellite to the ships and subs prior to launch.
The AGM-88 HARM (high-speed antiradar missile) is an updated version of the older AGM-45 Shrike and AGM-78 Standard air-to-ground missile. It’s carried by a variety of NATO planes, including the F-15, F-16, F-117, and the Tornado, and is used to incapacitate enemy radars. The warhead houses about 145 lb of high explosives and hundreds of tungsten alloy fragmentation cubes which rip through radar antennae and transmitters upon detonation.
The supersonic missile has a range of 30 miles and tracks targets with a passive radar receiver. The missile can detect targets itself or use the detection system onboard the aircraft carrying it. If the target radar shuts down, HARM flies to where the last signal originated. The 800-lb missile is powered by a Thiokol rocket motor. A 1990 hardware update gave it a lower-cost radar seeker with the ability to counter frequency-agile radars. There are plans to add GPS guidance and other improvements to the next-generation HARM which has been dubbed the ADCAPARM (advanced capability antiradar missile).