How Effective Are Air Power &
Precision Weapons in Urban Combat? (III) 

August 5, 1998

Comment: #164

Discussion Thread:  #s 161, 162, 163


[1] Member of Senate Staff Takes Issue with General Wald's Claims About Effectiveness of Air Power in Urban Warfare. (Attached)

[2] Fighter Pilot #1 Raises Moral Questions Concerning General Wald's Claim (Attached)

The two comments referenced extend the discussion thread opened by Fighter Pilot #1 in Comment #161 by raising additional issues regarding General Wald's questionable claims for the effectiveness of airpower and precision weapons in urban conflict [see interview with Defense News in the reference to #161]. Reference 1 below is from a member of the Senate Staff who questions General Wald's claims about the performance of PGMs in Iraq and Bosnia. He cites a well-known GAO report to support his conclusions. While some disagree with this report, it's analyses and conclusions have not been effectively rebutted by the Defense Department.

I would urge readers to read this report and draw your own conclusions. The report is entitled, "Operation Desert Storm: Evaluation of the Air Campaign." The abstract follows:

"Air power clearly achieved many of the objectives of Operation Desert Storm, but fell short of fully achieving others. GAO's declassified review of available data indicate that many postwar claims by manufacturers and the Defense Department (DOD) about the performance of sophisticated weapon systems--particularly the F-117, the Tomahawk land attack missile, and laser-guided bombs-- were overstated, misleading, inconsistent with the data, or unverifiable. Airpower damage to several major targets was less than that suggested in a Defense Department (DOD) report to Congress. The lessons learned from Desert Storm are limited because of the unique conditions, the strike tactics used by the coalition, the limited Iraq response, and the limited data on weapon system effectiveness. The climate and terrain were generally conducive to air strikes, and the coalition had nearly six months to plan the operation. The strong likelihood of success allowed U.S. commanders to favor strike tactics that emphasized pilot and aircraft survivability rather than weapon system effectiveness. In addition, the Iraqis employed few, if any, electronic countermeasures and presented almost no air-to-air opposition. As a result, Desert Storm did not rigorously test aircraft and weapon systems used in the air campaign."

The entire GAO report can be can be found at

Reference 2 below is a second email response from the first Fighter Pilot #1. He relates the questionable claims to the issue of leadership responsibility and the effects such claims have on morale and retention. Recall that Fighter Pilot #1 is a very experienced, active-duty military fighter pilot, with substantial command experience and about 3000 hours in fighters.

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 1:

Conservative Member of Senate Staff

General Wald's claims about the effectiveness of PGMs in cities go beyond just exaggeration.

First, there is, of course, no data to substantiate his statement, and most available data flatly refute it. He points, as do most data-avoiding hucksters of complex technology, to the use of PGMs in Desert Storm and Bosnia. Those who still believe Desert Storm demonstrated some sort of revolutionary triumph of PGMs need to read GAO's analysis ("Operation Desert Storm:  Evaluation of the Air Campaign," GAO/NSIAD-97-134 at their website

The data show that F-117s hit (but did not necessarily destroy) about 40% of their targets, not the claimed 80%. Tomahawks were about the same, and it took -- on average -- about 10 tons of PGMs (plus even more unguided munitions) to take out a single bridge. With that kind of "precision," General Wald can make your average urban environment into a real pretty moonscape. The failure of heavy PGM strikes to take out Saddam's C&C or destroy the Republican Guard also doesn't argue well for General Wald.

As for the success of PGMs over Bosnia, assuming they hit and destroyed every assigned target (a real stretch), the data sample is about 100 munitions, compared to the thousands used in Desert Storm (which, except for the GPS aided Tomahawks, were the same systems). There has not yet been an independent, objective, data based analysis of the Bosnia strikes, so people should be real careful about assuming these strikes somehow negate the much lower success rate of PGMs in Desert Storm.

But why should General Wald care? That's not his game. Pretty clearly, he's just pimping for his service and its supporting coterie of contractors; he wants a bigger budget share for the Air Force. In the current environment of data-free analysis and journalism by simply reprinting press releases and asking no informed questions, there are no inhibitions on indefensible, misleading, or self-interested claims about the performance of one's own service and its favored goodies.

Reference 2:

Fighter Pilot #1

When a senior officer makes public assertions known by many in the ranks to be half truths -- he or she erodes the two way trust between junior and senior fundamental to combat effectiveness and retention.

During the last 10 years, there have been a significant number of instances where a senior officer dissembled in public and private about a piece of faulty equipment or declining readiness. I have personally witnessed how juniors officers and enlisted alike not only quickly see through these facades but also quickly adapt to protect themselves. Leaving a service at the first available opportunity is one option.

In this specific instance, a general officer asserted a capability (Air Power Effectiveness in Urban Warfare) which appeared to contain several fatal flaws. In less than 24 hrs your email net determined that a well known body of significant and credible evidence exists to contradict the assertion (1st fighter pilot--me) and that the assertion also contained significant technical (2nd fighter pilot) and moral flaws (Mr. Fenster). It's been my experience that even a few instances such as this significantly erode service efforts seeking to improve combat effectiveness or retention.