The Sarajevo Bombing: Air-strike technology all ready to go

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The Independent Online
VITEZ - If and when air attacks in Bosnia are ordered, implementing them initially will take much longer than the half-hour demanded by the last UN commander, Lieutenant- General Francis Briquemont - 'By a factor of ten, I'd say,' said one source at the British base at Vitez.

The request would go to Bosnia-Herzegovina command at Kiseljak from a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), thence to the overall commander in Zagreb, then to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali. But once that political decision is taken and force is used for the first time from the air, the military system will operate swiftly and smoothly, and thereafter air strikes could be mounted in minutes.

There are about 40 forward air-control officers in the UN theatre of operations, able to direct about twice that number of ground-attack aircraft. The British provide three teams, each of four men with a fourth team on stand-by in Britain. The Danes, French and Canadians also provide teams.

A TACP can talk to the battalion commander and to Kiseljak, which assigns the aircraft, on two radio networks. Kiseljak then gives the TACP's frequency to the plane and the next the party will hear is the pilot requesting instructions from the TACP, using the party's distinctive call sign, which incorporates a national identification codeword.

Normally the commando and parachute TACPs operate on foot, but in Bosnia they have been provided with Spartan armoured personnel carriers. The British are the best equipped, with laser target- markers, radar beacons, infra- red pointers and searchlights with 10 million candle-power.

The laser is the favourite, and is mounted on the British Spartans in a special turret. The local forces would probably not know they were being 'lased' until they went blind or were hit by a bomb. The radar beacons are also extremely effective. The TACP can judge the distance and bearing of the target from the beacon accurately, and this information is passed to the aircraft.

At any one time, aircraft based in Italy are flying over Bosnia armed with weapons to attack ground targets. All the countries involved have aircraft with laser range-finders and marked target-seekers.

The favoured weapons for attacking ground targets are 'iron' bombs and cannon. Cluster bombs, which typically scatter their bomblets over an area 100m by 200m (100 yards by 200), would cause colossal damage to civilian life and property, and Gulf war experience shows that about one in 10 of the bomblets do not go off, causing a hazard for years afterwards. Against tanks, the US A-10 would be the favourite aircraft.

Aircraft over Bosnia normally have to stay 3,300m (10,000ft) above ground level. They can drop to 1,700m in a dive before pulling up to toss their laser-guided bombs into the cone formed by laser light reflected from the marked target. The bomb, which has to be aimed pretty accurately, then makes a series of jerky corrections on its final approach to the target. If it is in the middle of such a correction when it strikes, it may still miss - about one in seven do. Generally however, laser-guided bombs will hit targets the size of buildings: close enough to deliver destruction on a scale as yet unseen in this war.