Weapons line up for trial of strength

IF THE allies attack Iraq the RAF is expected to play a small but crucial part, although defence sources rule out any addition to the six British bombers already on standby.

The United States has observed the rebuilding of Iraqi forces to 40 per cent of pre-Gulf war levels and constant attacks on the Shia communities in the south of Iraq and the Kurds in the north.

Iraq had begun moving SA-2 and SA-3 missiles southwards even before the air battle on 27 December when one of its planes was shot down. They were moved south of the 32nd parallel this week.

The SA-2 and SA-3 are the oldest of Iraq's surface-to-air missiles and not formidable by modern standards. The SA-2 entered service with the Soviet Union in 1957, and can engage targets in a range from 80,000ft to 130,000ft. The SA-3, introduced in 1961, can hit targets from 40,000ft up to 100,000ft.

The US has about 200 combat aircraft in the Gulf area, although not all would be used in a strike. Eighty-five of them are on board the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. There are also ground- based aircraft at airfields across Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon refused last night to comment on reports that F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack aircraft were available, but they probably are. Since the Gulf war two years ago other aircraft - including the fast B-1B strategic bomber, - have become available.

The Kitty Hawk is accompanied by more than a dozen other warships. The Americans also have A- 10 ground attack planes in the area, although they are unlikely to be used for a precision attack of this type. 'A capability in a region doesn't necessarily mean something we would use,' a US officer said. 'We have deployed a few additional resources,' he added - RC-135 and E-3 reconnaissance aircraft and KC-10 tankers. Enhancements to the tanker fleet are most significant as they multiply the striking power of combat aircraft many times.

The RAF has six Tornado GR-1 bombers with thermal imaging airborne laser designator pods based at Dhahran, close to southern Iraq. Defence sources say there are no plans to augment the six Tornados, but equipped with the thermal weapons they are ideal for precision attack missions, marking targets with laser beams and then tossing 1,000lb laser- guided bombs which home in on the laser marks.

The laser system comprises a thermal imager and a television camera which operate simultaneously. No other laser designator has this facility. It was first used in anger in February 1991 against hardened aircraft shelters in the H-3 complex in southern Iraq. Two pods guided precision attacks against 18 targets during the rest of the Gulf war. The US air force was very impressed with the GR-1 during the war, a view which has not diminished. Although the RAF admits that 'there is only so much that six Tornados can do', a US officer was more enthusiastic yesterday: 'Tornados are a lot of fun,' he said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before