|Iraqi artillery position: too neat for its own good|
There were other problems, too. It wasn't just an away fixture, it was the desert: and desert warfare is a specialised business. The sand is a challenging medium; and the relative lack of readily discernible topographic features across very large areas made aerial reconnaisance more difficult, too. Then there was the heat, which was really giving us the hurry-up during our "winter" of preparations 1990-91. The prospect of fairly intolerable temperatures once winter was over was
troubling for the great preponderance of US, UK and French forces: and staggering amounts of bottled water were procured.
However, there were some very important pluses. The aforesaid US / UK / French** forces (and a handful of other 'western' allies) all operated under NATO doctrine, meaning that a swathe of practical operational and inter-operability challenges had long-ingrained solutions. AirLand Battle as a doctrine was a well-practised reality - albeit never yet tested in action.
And, above all (quite literally) was the near-certainty of air superiority - the quickest and easiest component to deploy, given the many existing airfield facilties enjoyed by the USA and the UK in the Gulf and Eastern Med^^, plus of course US aircraft carriers. It was early air deployment that also started fixing some of the initial problems around shortage of good intelligence. Stand-off air recce was able to be mounted quickly; and ultimately a superb new asset was deployed - the E-8A J-STARS, the capabilities of which we will come to later in this account. For now, suffice to say that the daily sorties were bringing back 2 TB of high-quality data of considerable value.
In my earlier series of posts on Desert Shield and how I came to be involved, I noted that we'd been gratified to find some of our lamentable initial ignorance on Iraq's army was fixed by the convenient fact of Iraq's adherence to Soviet doctrines in many respects (where they hadn't innovated), as well as using Soviet equipment. Us old Russia hands were pretty good on all that, of course: we'd been working on little else for a long time.
In fact sometimes it was even easier than we first realised. The Iraqis were fairly slavish adherents to those precepts, an example being the Russian principle of deploying artillery in threes: three guns to a platoon, three platoons to a battery, three batteries to a batallion, etc - all in neat triangles. The thing is, in northern Europe, these triangles would be loosely and flexibly deployed, for reasons of terrain and concealment. In the open desert, the Iraqis went for neat equilateral triangles ... you spot one, and you know exactly where to look for the rest (see pic above). Kinda handy for finding and plotting them!
It all helped: 2 TB per sortie was a helluva lot of stuff to go through - and computerised imagery analysis was in its infancy. Also, we were looking for more important things than anti-tank batteries - things that were better hidden, where the lone and level sands stretch far away ... (to be continued)
** French / NATO? Oh yes: even through the long years of De Gaulle's stand-offish policy, the French military quietly made sure to keep fully up-to-date with NATO STANAGS
^^ Turkey wasn't as *helpful* as it might have been