War In The Balkans: Allied Strategy - Bombing System that's on Target, Whatever the Weather

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The Independent Online
NATO YESTERDAY deployed a new weapon in its fight against Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, a devastating bombing system which can operate accurately in bad weather and which gives no warning to the forces it is attacking.

Specifically designed for use against tanks and mobile artillery, the bomb is guided to its target by a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) navigation system. Unlike the other "smart" weapons used so far in Operation Allied Force, in the Gulf War or in Operation Desert Fox against Iraq, it does not need clear weather.

The system is carried on the US B-1B long-range heavy bomber, four of which yesterday were on their way to the Balkans region from bases in different parts of the United States. The system has never been used in combat before, but proved accurate to within 30ft of a target in trials two years ago, about the size of the penalty area on a football pitch.

The bombs are designed to explode 30ft to 40ft above the ground, spreading the armour-piercing fragmentation warhead over a wide area. Any tanks, guns or armoured personnel carriers in that range would be destroyed, the theory goes. Also, as the aircraft fly at up to 30,000ft, they can attack with much less risk than even Harrier pilots at their medium level.

Laser, infra-red or optical (TV) guidance systems need a clear sight of the target for about 90 seconds if they are to work properly. If it is even temporarily obscured by cloud or smoke, the system could fail to "lock on" or fail to maintain lock for the time needed to deliver the bomb.

"The other advantage of flying at those kinds of heights is that the enemy gets no warning at all. The first thing they know about it is when this armour-piercing metal is flying around their ears and in their tanks," said Air Vice-Marshal Mason. "This is not the answer to Milosevic, this is not going to end the war in 24 hours. But it does bring great advantages."