WASHINGTON -- Most of the bombs dropped by U.S. warplanes on Iraqi radar stations during last week's airstrikes missed their mark, Pentagon officials disclosed Wednesday, with most of the misses blamed on a new and expensive Navy guided bomb.
About 25 of the guided bombs, which were first used in combat two years ago, were dropped in the attack, and the majority fell "tens of yards" from their "aimpoints," a Navy official said. Another official said he had been told the misses averaged more than 100 yards, an unsatisfactory performance for a modern precision-guided weapon.
Pentagon officials were initially glowing in their assessment of Friday's airstrikes against the Iraqi anti-aircraft system, which involved U.S. and British warplanes. But the disclosure of the guided weapon's failure rate stunned defense officials Wednesday and led them to scale back their assessment of the damage done in the attack.
"We feel we had a good effect. Was it perfect? No. Did every weapon system perform perfectly? No, but they never do," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman.
The guided bombs were fired at about 25 parts of Iraqi radar stations -- radar dishes, communications bunkers and other components -- and the Pentagon has been able to confirm damage to only eight of these targets, one official said. About another eight targets escaped damage, while satellite imagery has not produced usable pictures of the remaining radar targets, the official said.
In a second part of the raid, communications nodes connecting the Iraqi anti-aircraft system were hit with two other types of smart weapons -- about five AGM-130 guided missiles and about 10 Standoff Land Attack Missiles. One or two of the AGM-130s also missed their targets, but the communications nodes were destroyed by the bombs that did hit, an official said. "Everything they were fired at was destroyed or heavily damaged," he said about the AGM-130s.
The communications nodes were considered the most important targets because they linked large radars around Baghdad to surface-to-air missile batteries in southern Iraq.
In the past, those batteries used their own radar to guide missiles at U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the southern "no-fly" zone. But U.S. radar-seeking missiles have proven so lethal against the batteries the Iraqis turned off those radars. Instead, they moved to a new system of using the large radars stationed outside the "no fly" zone to locate aircraft and then fire at allied planes from missile batteries in the south. It was the communications links tying together the new system that was attacked Friday.
Almost all the Navy guided bombs, known as the AGM-154A "Joint Standoff Weapon," that missed on Friday did so in the same way, veering to the left of where they were supposed to hit, officials said. The consistency of this error has led Navy officials to believe that it is likely a software glitch threw off the bombs' guidance systems. The weapon receives data from global positioning satellites as it glides as far as 40 miles to its target.
But officials also are looking at whether the bombs were mishandled or otherwise damaged before they were put on F/A-18 jets flying from the USS Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier that was in the Persian Gulf.
"It could be a mechanical problem, it could be a software problem," a Navy official said. He emphasized that a bomb that misses its "aimpoint" -- the actual spot where it is supposed to strike -- still can damage its target as it explodes and sends fragments flying for hundreds of yards. "Most of those which were assessed as missing their aimpoints still damaged their targets," he said. "They missed by tens of yards when they were sent from 30 to 40 miles away."
But others said the Navy was embarrassed over the poor performance of the weapon and taken aback by how many radar stations escaped damage. "There is great concern with how these things performed," a Navy officer said.
The Joint Standoff Weapons range in cost from about $250,000 to about $700,000 apiece, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
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