You remember all those breathless accounts of American bleeding-edge technology being used in the air war above Iraq? Well, you can forget 'em now.Sure, the U.S. did use an unprecedented number of spy drones in Gulf War II. But "many of the weapons used were quite oldsome of them nearly antiqueand most of their missions were not in the least bit exotic," Slate's Fred Kaplan writes.A recently-released Air Force report documents exactly what the service did in the war -- the number and kind of bombs dropped, missions flown, and planes used.Kaplan sifts through the report, and finds a number of surprises. Here's one:
During the war, most analysts assumed the majority of bombs were smart bombs and the majority of smart bombs were the new, cheap Joint Defense Attack Munitions or JDAMs. The old smart bombs, the ones used in Desert Storm, were laser-guided. In other words, a crew member would shine a laser on the target; the bomb would follow the beam. However, the beam could be deflected by dust, smoke, rain, even humidity. And the laser-guided bombs were expensivearound $100,000 apiece. JDAMs are guided by Global Positioning Satellites. The pilot punches the target's coordinates into the bomb's GPS receiver andthe bomb homes in on the spot; environmental conditions aren't a factor. And they're cheapa JDAM kit can be strapped onto an old-fashioned "dumb bomb" for $18,000.However, it turns out that of the 19,948 smart munitions fired during Gulf War II, 8,716two-fifthswere the '90s-era laser-guided bombs. Substantially fewer, 6,642, were JDAMs. The other 4,590 smart weapons were GPS-guided but much more expensive models than the JDAM.More surprising, another 9,251 bombsor one-third of all the bombs dropped during this warwere unguided, unmodified dumb bombs. It would be good to know where these dumb bombsand the less-reliable laser-guided bombswere dropped: on the battlefield, in cities? In other words, was "collateral damage" a greater problem than our vision of a JDAM-dominating war suggested?