Smart bombs vs. Tomahawks
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Just like the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the latest conflict with Iraq began with strikes from Tomahawk cruise missiles.
But Pentagon officials say the Tomahawks probably will be eclipsed by a new favorite bomb made to fit the wish list of the Gulf War's commanders: cheap, plentiful, accurate and impervious to clouds, dust and smoke.
The Joint Direct Attack Munition, extensively used in the war in Afghanistan, probably will make up the bulk of the thousands of bombs expected to rain on Iraq once the war begins in earnest.
The Wednesday night strike included four 2,000-pound JDAM bombs dropped in pairs from F-117A Nighthawk stealth attack jets.
The targets were a small compound where Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi leaders were believed to be at the time of the strike. Saddam appeared on Iraqi television after the attack, reading a vituperative condemnation of the assault.
The Tomahawk is still a technological wonder, able to fly at just under the speed of sound, hugging the ground to deliver a 1,000-pound warhead onto a preprogrammed target. U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea launched more than 40 Tomahawks in the opening strike on Iraq, from pairs of destroyers, cruisers and submarines.
But the United States doesn't have as many Tomahawks as it does bombs, and the missiles have drawbacks that the JDAMs don't.
"They may still use Tomahawks, but I don't think you'll see the enormous expenditure like with Desert Storm," former Army officer Andrew Krepinevich, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said before the war started.
Part of the reason is that Tomahawks, at about $600,000 each, are about 28 times as expensive as one JDAM bomb -- which can deliver the same amount or twice the explosives. The JDAM, a tail kit that converts a 1,000- or 2,000-pound "dumb" bomb to a satellite-guided "smart" weapon, costs about $21,000.
The United States probably has more than 10,000 JDAMs on hand, vs. somewhere around 1,000 Tomahawks on Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf. Tomahawks are built by Raytheon Co. in Tucson, Ariz., and JDAMs are assembled by Boeing in St. Charles, Mo.
Since both are guided by global positioning satellites, the two have roughly the same accuracy, though the Tomahawk may have the edge.
During the Gulf War, less than 10 percent of the bombs and missiles used were guided by lasers, video cameras or satellites. During the war in Afghanistan, more than 70 percent of the munitions have been precision guided, the majority of those being JDAMs.
Pentagon officials say they expect 70 percent to 80 percent or more of the weapons dropped on Iraq to be precision-guided.
Among other things, that could reduce the number of civilian casualties below the estimated 3,000 killed during the Gulf War, a Central Command official told reporters this month.
Because JDAMs are guided by satellite signals, they can hit targets obscured by clouds, dust or smoke, unlike the laser-guided bombs that were the main precision weapons in 1991. They allow U.S. planes to hit more targets with fewer weapons than ever before.
The latest versions of Tomahawks also are guided by satellites. They are most useful against fixed targets like buildings or bunkers, since most Tomahawks -- but not all -- cannot be reprogrammed while they are in flight. Since JDAMs are dropped by airplanes only a few miles away from their targets, they can be used to hit moving or newly discovered targets.
Iraq has reportedly attempted to get devices to try to jam the satellite signals that guide JDAMs and Tomahawks to their targets. The United States can overcome such countermeasures, however, said Maj. Gen. Franklin Blaisdell, director of space operations for the Air Force.
"Any enemy that would depend on GPS jammers for their livelihood is in grave trouble," Blaisdell said.