- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) — Smoke from trenches of oil burning in Baghdad will matter little to the U.S. bombing campaign but it may slow ground operations, experts said Saturday.

The munitions used in the ongoing "shock and awe" bombing are primarily guided to their targets by either lasers or Global Positioning Satellite data, said John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org. While the laser-guided weapons can be thrown off by smoke or sand storms, Pike said, the GPS-guided bombs can find their targets whether they can "see" them or not.

Lt. Herb Joseph, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Qatar, confirmed that laser-guided weapons could "affected by smoke and sand and other things that interfere with the laser." Such weapons were used in the previous Gulf War in 1991, he told United Press International.

"We can say, as you probably know, that there are munitions that we do use that are not affected by the smoke," said Joseph.

GPS guided weapons include cruise missiles and JDAMs or Joint Direct Attack Munitions. Laser-guided systems include the GBU-28 Penetrator or "Bunker-Buster" which is designed to penetrate underground installations. The proportion of each type was not disclosed.

Laser-guided systems find their mark by following the energy from a low-level laser beam while it is pointed at the target. A soldier on the ground or another plane with a laser must point it and hold the target in the beam until it is hit. It is possible that a single plane would carry both the laser and the bombs, with the pilot both pointing the laser and launching the bomb.

Though there have been rumors of coalition Special Forces troops in Baghdad, Pike believed it unlikely they were there guiding laser munitions.

GPS-guided bombs carry an internal system to guide them to pre-determined coordinates. GPS satellites do not broadcast coordinates but rather a set of signals that the missile guidance system compares in a type of triangulation to determine where it is. Once the coordinates of the target — which include both height and location — are loaded, the missile simply lines up to hit them using GPS signals to correct its course as it flies. Target coordinates can be determined using radar imaging satellites. GPS signals, which are broadcast continuously worldwide, are not blocked by weather or smoke.

"(The missiles) know where they are going to go. They can change some of (the coordinates) at the last minute as well. The target is going to be where it is — it doesn't matter if there is a lot of smoke between the actual ordinance and the target," said Mark Burgess, research analyst with the Center of Defense Information.

There are systems that could be impacted, however, and their limitations may affect the ground campaign when the battle reaches Baghdad, Pike said.

The air-launched Maverick, for example, uses a heat-seeking infrared sensor or is guided to the target by the pilot looking through a television camera. "Both of them are going to have a problem with smoke," said Pike.

Pike also noted that the smoke could impact military operations if soldiers are required to visually confirm the target before firing.

"The place where it would become a problem is if the rules of engagement require visual confirmation," Pike said. "If I saw vehicular traffic, the rules of engagement might require me to get optical confirmation that they are military vehicles and not full of refugees before I do anything."

Under the rules a pilot's inability to see through smoke could make ground operations harder — especially when coalition forces are close to the enemy lines.

"Special operations' gunships use TV cameras for targeting," Pike said. "If you are talking about a strategic campaign, the smoke cloud is not going to be an issue. If you are talking close air support for troops, perhaps soldiers fighting house-to-house, these flame trenches could be a problem."

Torie Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters Saturday that she believed the fires were not aimed at slowing military operations but at world opinion.

"I think they planned for a long time to do that (light the fires) to create very dramatic images of what it looks like is happening in Baghdad," said Clarke. "The very placement of some of these trenches gives an indication of what they were thinking — putting trenches near hospitals and mosques and schools which are clearly not targets for us."

Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who spoke at the same Washington press conference as Clarke, said "I believe that there could be a belief that any obscurant could assist them — but I do not believe that it will have the effect that they may hope."

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