A senior admiral yesterday defended the performance of a Navy “standoff” weapon unleashed against Iraq on Feb. 16, saying an inaccurate weather forecast prevented the munition from making a late-course correction and directly hitting all targets.
“The mission itself was a very effective mission,” said Vice Adm. Dennis V. McGinn while giving the Navy’s first public explanation of why the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) did not hit the bull’s-eye on all targets during the recent air strikes on Iraq. “It’s an absolutely superb weapon. It has a tremendously good record in combat.”
Adm. McGinn, deputy chief of naval operations for naval warfare, said in an interview that three factors combined in what he termed an “anomaly” to prevent most JSOWs from making a direct hit. Still, since the type of JSOW used in the operation was a cluster munition, most air-defense targets were damaged by a spray of bomblets, he said.
The former carrier pilot said forecasters failed to predict the force and direction of winds at the point the JSOWs glided toward Iraq’s early warning radar. The weapon’s onboard program to compensate for changes in wind direction was insufficient to overcome the wrong data. Because of this, the center of the pattern of bomblets did not explode on target.
Since then, he said, technicians have reprogrammed the weapons to be able to adapt to faulty weather predictions.
The 1,500-pound JSOW, as a standoff system, allows pilots to release the munition at a safe distance from thick air-defense barrages. An unpowered JSOW can travel 40 miles; a rocket-propelled model can go about 120 miles.
Adm. McGinn explained the problem:
“What happened was a combination of a difference between predicted and actual winds in the target area, the mission planning profile that was chosen based on that prediction and the way in which the weapon itself calculates wind in the target area. Those all combined in an anomalous way that we had not seen before in the various successful missions that it had been employed in in the past. And it caused a less-than optimum positioning of that bomblet centroid in relation to the targets. Not in all the JSOW weapons, but in most.”
The weapon’s performance has been under attack in the media after reports that Navy F-18 pilots from the carrier Harry S. Truman missed half of their targets. That characterization, Adm. McGinn contended, is incorrect.
“In many cases, those bomblets actually damaged or destroyed the intended targets,” he said. “The centroid of the pattern of bomblets was not precisely where it should have been because of this wind anomaly. And that is the fix that is already out in the fleet right now.”
Adm. McGinn declined to say how many JSOWs were launched.
President Bush approved a Pentagon request to bomb about 20 communication and radar sites south and north of Baghdad. Iraq was using the powerful radar to spot U.S. and British warplanes entering a no-fly zone south of the 33rd parallel and passing the information to air-defense batteries trying to shoot down the aircraft.
“The weapon performance, not because of a technical issue of the weapon, but more because of this anomaly of using a backup mode to calculate wind in the target area, wasn’t what it had been in previous uses in combat,” Adm. McGinn said. “It had practically a 100 percent record.”
He described the fix as changing “the way in which the mission planning software is used… . It wasn’t an inherent design problem in the weapon… . It’s a relatively straightforward fix.”
The standoff system used on Feb. 16 relied on satellite guidance via the global-positioning system (GPS). Adm. McGinn said the GPS component performed as expected.