Saturday 30 January 2021

Gathering Intelligence: Desert Storm (part 2)

Iraqi artillery position: too neat for its own good
30 years ago, Desert Storm was raging.  There had been a fairly lengthy build-up period since George Bush Snr declared for unconditional eviction of Saddam from Kuwait, and it had been a period of frenetic and growing activity on a vast scale.  The Iraqi army was big, battle-hardened and on home territory.  The ostensibly impressive coalition Bush had assembled was diverse and for the most part playing away from home.  

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 


E-K said...

What a heck of a thing to have been involved with. Kudos to you.

My workmate was in the Tank Regiment at the time. He was also involved in something called Operation Cold Start which he remembers with great fondness. (Not)

E-K said...

I believe he was the driver of a Challenger.

dearieme said...

Our current war is against the EUSSR's crack Adolfina von der Leyen division which plans to smash through Belgium and seize the manufacturing plant, data, and intellectual property of AstraZeneca.

That's because they want more of the vaccine that the French and German governments claim is anyway no use for the over-60s, which is of course the age group that will benefit most from a vaccine. (The German regulators disagree. Maybe they aren't facing an election.)

Of course this attack may be a feint, with the Pfizer plant the real target. But Pfizer is a US company: would they really dare?

lilith said...

Gripping Nick. Tell us more! I was pushing a baby out in 1990 so really on another planet.

Dearime; hilarious!

Oldgit Carlisle said...

Suggest we offer some vaccine to Germany and Austria - delivery by Lancaster at night.

Some to Republic of Ireland by road delivery and deliberately provide faulty paperwork and film Guarda holding it up.

dearieme said...

Ahh, the old purple ink dodge, eh?

E-K said...

Another mate was in the Royal Artillery manning a gun. They used to take a crap in front of the gun and he says they fired it while he was having a dump.

He also said his emplacement was under the path of a barrage fired from the Wisconsin which was 'something to behold'.

Doonhamer said...

At the time I was working in Europe assisting an American company flying Chukar jet targets.
Just before kick-off every Chukar disappeared from Europe.
Once the thing started I realised that every single Chukar, and probably other jet targets had been flown into the war zone, no recovery parachutes, one way, no doubt with suitable enhancement.
Just to fire up all the defence systems so that the real war frequencies etc. could be picked up.
At that time the super duper JP-233 was finishing development and was used for the first time. It suddenly stopped development and totally sunk without trace.
Designed for use against high-tech Iron Curtain foes, it was no match for a row of squadies at each end of the target runway standing and firing their AKs vertically into the sky.

Nick Drew said...

Nice detail, Doonhamer