March 2nd, 2004
March 19th, 2003. The Iraq war is about to begin -- a war that will showcase a new generation of military technology.
Lt Joe Ring: The Pentagon selects targets and they get the missions out to the ship. We receive those, download them into our weapons system. Normally you get maybe a day or two to plan. We didn't have that. We had a very short amount of time. It took an all hands effort.
SOT: Twelve, eleven, ten, nine ...
LtJc Christie Montemurro: It was exciting. Everyone was very excited that we were going to play a part.
SOT: Seven, six ...
Lt Joe Ring: A lot of people working very hard. No room for error.
SOT:Four, three, two, one, mark.
LtJC Christie Montemurro: You can feel the ship shake. It lights up the sky. It was definitely one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.
Narrator: The Navy was firing Tomahawk cruise missiles, designed for long-distance attacks on heavily defended targets.
Lt Joe Ring: We were several hundred miles away from the targets. We shot our first salvo, and went down and watched them detonate in Baghdad live on CNN. That was a life changing experience. It wasn't very comfortable. There wasn't a lot of cheering. It was very quiet.
LtJc Christie Montemurro: I guess I really didn't think about it when it happened. Because you know we're trained to do our job here, and we execute it, without reservation or really thinking about it.
Narrator: The opening strike was followed by several days of intense attacks on command bunkers, government ministries and other symbols of the Iraqi regime.
Lt Joe Ring: Those first few nights with the 'Shock and Awe', the salvos were pretty severe in size and Mobile Bay did have, over the course of about 6 days, several dozen missions that we executed into Baghdad.
Narrator: Missile carrying cruisers like the USS Mobile Bay gave the US Navy the ability to strike with great power and accuracy, without risking the lives of any American pilots.
Lt Joe Ring: As a kid growing up, and a young naval officer, you would see all that on TV and say "wow, that's pretty neat". But, sitting there, on a ship, in war, watching your weapons detonate live on TV, in a city. It was tough to watch. I didn't get to see my enemy face to face. He didn't see me. I struck him at night. He didn't probably know I was coming.
Narrator: The conflict that began with missile strikes from distant cruisers, has been called the first war of the information age.
General Franks: This will be a campaign unlike any other in history. A campaign characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility, by the employment of precise munitions, and by the application of overwhelming force.
Narrator: The technology that was used in Iraq, will change forever how America fights wars.
TITLE SHOT -- Hi-Tech War
SOT: Five, four, three, two, one ...
Narrator: The US Navy could fire Tomahawk missiles into the heart of Baghdad, because of radio signals beamed to earth from space. From its headquarters here in Colorado Springs, US Air Force Space Command controls the 28 navigation satellites that generate the international global positioning system, or GPS. GPS is at the heart of America's new way of war.
SOT: Pre-pass, satellite 51. Check this one-dash-eight. Pre-pass ...
Narrator: Lieutenant Colonel Scott Henderson is in charge of the team that runs the GPS system.
SOT:Check momentum on the reaction wheels. Step four -- good order, no windows. Step five -- one hour, all the RD's are good, no nav. Step six -- extension on the A string ...
Lt. Col. Scott Henderson: This is what a standard army trooper would carry on the ground. With this receiver, what he's doing is, he's calculating the time it takes for a radio signal to travel from a known point in space down to his receiver. So he takes that very precise time it takes to travel from the satellite to the receiver, multiplies that time by the speed of light, now he has a distance to a known point in space and anywhere on the earth that you have a GPS receiver you have 4 to 7 satellites in view so you're now triangulating from 4 to 7 known points in space which gives you precise latitude, longitude and altitude.
Narrator: GPS grid references enable the US military to split the world into a series of three-dimensional boxes, into which weapons can be precisely guided. The cruise missiles that hit Baghdad used GPS to fly into just such boxes. To guarantee GPS accuracy to within three meters, Scott Henderson's team must continually update their satellites with the latest information about the atmospheric conditions through which their radio signals must pass.
Lt. Col. Scott Henderson: We essentially drew a fence around the Iraqi theatre of war, centered on Baghdad, and every time a satellite came up over the horizon and crossed that fence in the theatre we would up-load that satellite with the latest and greatest estimates of all of those unknowns so that that satellite at that point in time was broadcasting its most precise navigation data it could give, and by doing that every time that a satellite came into view we were able to optimize the performance in theatre and create what we call a little 'sweet spot' over the Iraqi theatre.
Narrator: At the center of that electronic 'sweet spot', the attacks on Baghdad continued. Targets associated with Saddam Hussein's regime were hit hard, but with such precision there was little damage to civilian buildings, and no mass exodus of refugees. However, television images of these attacks brought international criticism of America's demonstration of power.
Cindy Williams: Now polities all over the world get to watch this, in real time. Especially the images on TV would have looked to the Arab street watching on TV as though it were casual, sort of an elephant swatting a fly.
Narrator: Those ordering the Shock and Awe attacks had hoped they would end the war quickly.
Andrew Krepinevich: They were trying to create a sense of overwhelming American military superiority to the point where the Iraqi leadership would suffer a kind of collective nervous breakdown.
Pat Garrett: While the senior elements of Iraq's government, Saddam Hussein, his sons, some of the other command elements, might have been dazed and confused by it, frankly, they were all moving between buildings. They had seen what American fire-power is capable of. The fact that they didn't capitulate at that point would seem to indicate it had very little effect.
Narrator: And so, with no Iraqi capitulation, American and British troops crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq. In the 1991 Gulf War, the Americans had invaded Iraq on a broad front led by hundreds of heavy tanks. But this was a much lighter and faster force, traveling in several directions simultaneously. It bypassed enemy-controlled areas in a race north, towards the center of Saddam's power. This style of war, with forces spread all over the country, is only possible if commanders know the location of every unit at all times.
They were helped by this -- a digital battle command system called FB-CB2. It provided a permanent link between ground forces, using GPS coordinates and a web-based computer network.
Lt. Gen. Otto Guenther: It was rushed very quickly, we were only given about 60-90 days. We actually developed in Iraq a backbone system with satellites. And they can, through looking on a small rugged-ized computer screen, they can actually see each other and track each other where they are, almost in real time with just a few second delay.
Narrator: Although designed for the US Army, the system was rushed to both the British forces and the US Marine Corps.
SSgt Chris Cerillo: It's like a little television screen, it would have the grids of where a unit was at, it's like one mini map. And it would have like 3rd LRA would be in blue, and then 7th Marines would be in red. You would see all the little interactions, and all the little grids, and all the little points, and it was really neat. It let everybody from every unit know exactly who was where and who was doing what. So if we knew that something was going on, we'd say, "Hey! Who's ahead of us? Oh, it's 3-7, good to go, we're on our way, we got you on the map, we know where you're at."
LTC Eric Schwartz: FBCB2, the digital battle command system that let me as a Battalion Commander look down at my digital screen and know that for a long duration attack where my forces were, was fantastic.
Narrator: The use of FB-CB2 digital tracking is a move towards what the Pentagon calls 'network-centric' warfare. A 'network centric' military shares information in a way that allows units to fight with speed, precision and a complete understanding of events on the battlefield. In the early 1990s the idea of network centric warfare was being explored in the Pentagon by officials such as Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Krepinevich.
Andrew Krepinevich: One can liken the new American way of war to the transition from mainframe computers to networks of personal computers. The old notion of a very hierarchical stultified command structure, you know the mainframe, that was the repository of all knowledge and information, is yielding to the idea of a networked force, of highly distributed, highly networked forces that are spatially distributed, and yet can still mass their combat capability. Because they are networked, because they do share information. Because they're all reading off the same page at the same time.
Narrator: General Buford Blount commanded the 3rd Infantry Division, and was leading the charge to Baghdad. It was his first battlefield experience using FB-CB2, also known as Friendly Force Tracker.
MG Buford C. Blount III:There were some days where we would be, the division would have a 200 kilometer fight going on in 3 different locations, so we'd have 3 different brigades, fighting in almost separate fights, over a 200 kilometer front. The Friendly Force Tracker enabled me to command and control that, to allocate resources, to know what's going on, to see where the forces were and see where all of my commanders were at that time. And be able to do that while we were moving. And that just has never been done before.
Narrator: Because of the new level of synchronization offered by FB-CB2, the Pentagon believed that even a light force could strike with great power. When he found himself facing an enemy dug into three separate strongholds, Colonel Eric Schwartz had a chance to put the Pentagon's theory to the test.
LTC Eric Schwartz: We got to the enemy, we hit three objectives at the same time, all synchronized. This was the first time that the soldiers saw contact, and this was the first time that we dropped ramps and infantrymen came out of the back and they went door to door and they went room to room and they cleared the enemy out, and this was the first time that we were firing main tank gun rounds. I apportioned everybody their piece of the objective. We found the enemy. We got them quick. And we killed them hard and we killed them fast.
Narrator: For a few days everything went according to plan, as the invading force drove a hundred and fifty miles towards Baghdad. But then, the high-tech Americans were challenged by Iraqi ground troops, armed with old-fashioned rifles and RPG's -- rocket propelled grenades.
SSgt Chris Cerillo: It's like a big speaker. And you would hear that thump, that vibration from the speaker coming out. You feel that thump and then you feel that sudden heat surge. That's exactly what it feels like, for the impact of an RPG.
SFC Jerold Pyle: Their main tactic was to mass fires on the lead vehicle. They would try and just throw everything they had at the front vehicle to try and stop them. And they did a pretty good job of that.
SSgt Chris Cerillo: What the Iraqis were learning, were kind of like trial and error. They were learning ... OK, if we hit them on this angle, this is what would happen to the vehicle. If we hit them from that angle, this is what will happen.
SFC Jerold Pyle: They would run at the tank, they were dug in right alongside of the road and, as you'd pass, they would pop up with an RPG and try and shoot you in the side or in the back. It was very up close and personal.
Narrator: American units had skirted around numerous enemy-held positions. From these areas, Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen guerrilla force launched hit and run attacks.
SSgt Chris Cerillo: The Fedayeen were dressing up as civilians, going on the side of the road and taking pot-shots at us as we passed. There were several individuals that were using local police cars as fronts, for the Fedayeen force. And what happened was, sure enough, they pretended like they were surrendering, then they took a shot at us.
LTC Eric Schwartz: We saw fire coming from mosques, fire coming from civilian homes. So our first reaction was -- well, that's not supposed to happen.
SSgt Chris Cerillo: I believe that, if you are a combatant, you should combat. If you're not, you should stay to the side. But when you draw women and children into it, then I, as well as many marines would take offence at that.
Narrator: In and around the towns of southern Iraq, the Americans found themselves caught up in a war of deception, ambushes and suicide bombs. A war that undermined their technological advantage.
Andrew Krepinevich: This is all part of a larger competition, between the elements of precision warfare and the steps that others are taking to essentially degrade the effectiveness of precision warfare -- by hiding, by creating a discrimination problem, for example intermingling with civilians.
Cindy Williams: The United States like to call this asymmetric warfare -- the weaker enemy will approach the stronger enemy with ways that they can get at its Achilles Heel. I sometimes think there is no such thing as asymmetric warfare; there is just a question of learning and intelligence on the part of the other side.
Andrew Krepinevich: The first hundred or so schools that were searched in Iraq following the war, they all had weapons in them. So creating a sanctuary problem. Is the United States really going to bomb a school? If they're not, that's an ideal place for weapons.
SOT: My name is Edgar, from United States.
Narrator: These tactics brought the Iraqis some success. They took American servicemen and women prisoner in a blaze of publicity -- and they began inflicting casualties.
SOT: Go! Go! Drive, man -- I think I'm hit!
LCpl Ian Anderson:It was just an ambush, the wrong place, and I got shot. I got shot in the knee, right up above the knee, once in the forward portion of the thigh, once in the back of the thigh and once in the shoulder. Five total.
Narrator: Four days into the war, 15 US marines were killed, and dozens more injured, during intense fighting in the southern city of Nasyria. On the same day, the US military suffered another blow, this time in the air. The Apache Longbow helicopter specializes in firing guided missiles at a range of several miles. But in Iraq, they ran into trouble against enemies firing rifles and RPG's from much closer range.
Andrew Krepinevich: There was a raid by American attack helicopters, Apaches, that went off, and it went off quite frankly rather poorly. They lost I believe an aircraft and just about every Apache that came back had bullet holes in it.
BG E.J. Sinclair:Intelligence was not exactly right, the Iraqis had prepared for that attack. We, the aviators who conducted that mission, made some mistakes -- there's no doubt about that. They flew over some areas that were very heavy with small arms fire.
CW3 Mike Wells:RPG's, heavy machine guns, S-60 air defense artillery. I know probably what it is like to be a rabbit being shot at with a shotgun. We're used to being the aggressor, but you find out that it can turn into fight or flight very quickly.
Iraqi Information Minister: A few farmers, a few peasants, brave peasants, have shot down two Apache helicopters.
Narrator: As Iraqi TV celebrated the downing of an Apache and the capture of its crew, the region was struck by the worst sandstorm in decades.
SFC Jerold Pyle: We had no visibility. You couldn't see your wing-man off to the side, you couldn't see anybody in front of you, you just didn't know what was out there. So everybody was pretty edgy.
LTC Eric Schwartz: That orange sky, just that funk, that horrible rainy windstorm, the raining mud. That was the most bizarre weather I'd ever seen in my life.
Narrator: Suddenly things seemed to be going wrong. As casualties mounted and progress slowed, the Pentagon was hit by a storm of criticism.
Pat Garrett: Yeah, I myself and others were I think really disheartened by what was happening after that first week.
Andrew Krepinevich: Euphoria at least in the media almost overnight turns to despair or concerns about whether the war plan is unraveling.
Pat Garrett: It seemed as if the hundred mile dash had slowed down to a creep and that the sandstorm would never go away.
Narrator: But, despite the anxiety in the media, a technological advantage was quietly working in America's favor -- the ability to see through the sandstorm. These converted Boeing 707's are called 'J-STARS'. Operating high above the battlefield, they carry a powerful downward-facing radar that can see through all weather conditions.
Maj. Wade Brackins: We were orbiting during the sandstorm and able to actually pick up a column of Iraqis that were doing essentially an 'end-run', trying to maneuver from one position to another. So for the next several hours we were just cycling in aircraft, different kinds of aircraft, to attack those targets.
Narrator: J-STAR's were not the only aircraft that could see through the sandstorms. Flying without a pilot, the Air Force's new Global Hawk cruised at more than twice the height of commercial airliners. It scanned the ground with high magnification cameras, and infra-red sensors that detected heat emitted by people and vehicles.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley: We only had one single Global Hawk but we flew it as much as we could and it provided an amazing capability to stream images and data to complement and supplement the other tip sensors that we had whether they're space based or JSTARS.
Narrator: These newly declassified pictures are from Raytheon, the company that makes the Global Hawk's sensors. They released them to illustrate the quality of the images that can be obtained from 65 thousand feet. They say this one identifies individual campfires burning in the mouth of a cave. Despite four days of sandstorms, the information flowed from the skies, allowing the Air Force to keep up a relentless assault. They targeted units of Iraq's elite Republican Guard deployed around Baghdad.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley: If you can find an alive Republican Guard senior officer you can ask him what he thought because a thousand sorties a day went up in the vicinity of Baghdad. So there was no pause for the Iraqi military.
Narrator: The weapon that did the damage was the J-DAM -- a bomb that could be guided right through the sandstorms. J-DAM's navigate by using the grid coordinates generated by the GPS system. They are not affected by weather conditions. Each contains an internal guidance unit, with its own GPS receiver.
Dr. Steve Butler: It knows where it is, it knows where the target is and it therefore makes the fins steer. The fins in the back of the bomb respond to the computers commands and so if the coordinate that it wants to go to is ahead and to the left of course the fins steer the bomb to the left. So the computer runs a very complicated navigation law that best determines the best optimum path from where I am currently to where I want to be.
Narrator: Cheap GPS receivers developed for domestic and commercial navigation, gave engineers at Boeing the idea for the J-DAM. Applying that technology to old fashioned, free-fall bombs, gave air commanders like Buzz Moseley a weapon that has changed the rules of warfare.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley: I think that a good way to look at this is it provides something that everyone has always desired, and that is to be able to precisely apply the weapon. If you think in terms of the days of B-17s and Lancasters and B-24s and Halifaxes, it took multiple aircraft multiple sorties to be guarantee that you could get the desired probability of destruction on a single target.
Maj. Mike Jansen: You can take one airplane with two weapons -- I can carry two two-thousand pound bombs on this aircraft right now -- and with those two-thousand pounds bombs I can precisely destroy two targets that would most likely have required four F-16s in the Gulf War.
Narrator: Because J-DAM's had been successful in Kosovo and Afghanistan, the Iraqi military was aware of their potential. So they tried to employ jammers to interfere with the GPS signals, and disrupt the bombs' navigation. But American surveillance aircraft located the jammers before they could do any damage.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley: In this case there was an attempt with multiple GPS jammers around key targets to attempt to affect the flight of the bomb. Did not happen that way, again because of all the other sensors we had we were able to find the jammers and then, again in a very elegant manner I believe, kill the GPS jammer with the GPS bomb.
Narrator: This video was taken from an F-117 Stealth fighter as it attacked a GPS jamming system in a truck. In the second week of the war, the weather began to clear and the US Ground Forces resumed their offensive. With them were Air Force spotters carrying new range finders that generated GPS grid co-ordinates.
SSgt Travis Crosby: You just put it up to your eye -- there's a receptacle -- and the GPS cord plugs in here, and I had my GPS mounted right in front of where I was standing at, and just squeeze the button and it takes about a half a second to give you the grid. And you hit one button on your GPS and you're looking at the grid.
Narrator: With accurate GPS grid references, ground spotters could send target information directly to pilots flying above. When his unit faced an Iraqi force dug into a cliff face, Travis Crosby got a chance to test this technology firsthand.
SSgt Travis Crosby: We had A-10s on the station and I was trying to tell them, just by voice, and describe to them the cliff and where the bunkers are. They couldn't see it and they asked for a grid. And luckily, it was new equipment, I kinda forgot about it for a minute and luckily it snapped, that I could give them a grid, no problem. I picked the equipment up, shot the grid, shot it up to them. They looked at it and they were like, "Yeah, we see the bunkers now". That particular time was the first time that I had ever done anything like that for real. We were traveling we were getting shot at the time and traveling up the highway. And it's kind of surreal. It was almost out of a movie or something.
Narrator: But not every weapon found its intended target. In the chaotic, close-up fighting around southern cities like Nasyria, low-flying A-10's used powerful canon fire to support US ground troops. Sometimes the pilots were unable to distinguish between friend and foe.
Pat Garrett: Unfortunately the friendly fire issue seems to be the one big lesson that the United States failed to learn or to take into account from the First Gulf War.
Narrator: The digital FB-CB2 tracking system helped ground forces determine where their comrades were, and as a result, the number of friendly fire incidents between ground units was markedly reduced from the 1991 war. But the Air Force did not always have access to this data.
Pat Garrett: A lot of the technology on the ground were not necessarily designed for pilots who were flying A-10s in the air, or F-16s, or what have you. Those were still one of the chief ways that friendly fire incidents occurred. You have A-10 pilots who are flying around seeing a dot on the ground that looks like a tank, and so they decide to strafe it.
Narrator: In the worst friendly fire incident of the war, an A-10 fired on a marine unit near Nasyria, killing an undisclosed number of men. Soldiers were dying, but more damaging to America's image internationally, were the mistakes that killed Iraqi civilians.
Cindy Williams:You can aim them at things that you were trying to hit, you can aim it at a specific corner of a specific building, and you can try to limit the casualties. But as we saw, you can't limit them to zero.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley: There will always be bad fins, bad kits. There will always be malfunctions within the systems, but for the most part, these things were very, very predictable, very, very reliable.
Narrator: But even a small number of errors produced harrowing results.
Cindy Williams: Those are the images of casualties in hospitals that then the Arab TV was quick to pick up on -- in fact I was living in Brussels at the time and European television was very quick to pick up on the images of the casualties. I don't think those images did our side a lot of good.
Narrator: The war was turning into more than a clash of soldiers and machines. It was becoming a struggle for world opinion carried out through television. Critics of the War said that America wasn't doing enough to prevent civilian casualties. US officials denied this point blank. They said that great care was being taken to minimize collateral damage -- the military term for unintended civilian injury and death.
Maj. Mike Jansen: My biggest concern is, is that we sanitize warfare to the degree where we stop caring about what we're actually doing. Your world exists here, right here in this cockpit, and you're surrounded with all this incredible technology. And it's a huge responsibility because you are the ultimate decision factor, your thumb hitting the pickle button, making the weapon come off the jet -- you can't poke you nose down there and take a look at who's down there, a huge responsibility and it weighs very heavily on guys.
Narrator: It also weighed heavily on those managing the air war. By the end of March there were two thousand aircraft in the skies every day.
SOT: Ok Craig, looks like we've got a pop-up thread ...
Narrator: This air armada was commanded in a new way -- by the Theatre Battle Management Core System, or TB-MCS.
SOT: Outstanding. Jo, what other missions do we have that are going to be affected?
SOT: Looks like Ghost 601, Mission ID 6101 will be affected by that move.
SOT: Mike, how's the retrograde plan coming?
Narrator: TB-MCS is a web-based system for planning, managing and executing the air war. Fifty computer programs keep track of the latest information on targets, weapons, fuel-loads, weather and navigation. Craig Kleinman works at the demonstration facility of Lockheed Martin, who manufacture the system. During the Iraq war he operated TB-MCS at a US air base in the Middle East.
Craig Kleinman: You can make decisions much faster than you could previously. Before you had to get onto the phone, call somebody up and ask about information and go through and compute different things on paper basically. But now the machines do most of the computation for you, or moving things around.
SOT: Ok, let's get word through Warrior that he needs to up his bingo there and he won't have a post-strike tanker.
SOT: Roger that.
SOT: Horse, what kind of attack options do we have?
Craig Kleinman: We were going after specific targets, and if people didn't do their jobs correctly, they could either run airplanes together or drop bombs on friendly forces and there was a very serious tone.
SOT: Carla, can you give us anything on collateral damage for the area?
SOT: There's a farmhouse structure about eight nautical miles north-northeast of the target location. There's no historical or cultural sites in the immediate vicinity of the target.
Narrator: For the general in charge of the air war in Iraq, the TBMCS command system was a crucial tool.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley: Part of this is a science, par of this is an art form, and part of this is just disciplined execution of a plan. The TBMCS system was an enhancement of biblical proportions over the previous endeavors.
Narrator: Lieutenant Colonel Doug Coombs helped design the part of the system that assigns aircraft to targets.
Lt. Col. Doug Coombs: Everything I'm doing here is being pulled out of TBMCS and I can manipulate that data to create an air battle plan if you will. I can assign an asset to a specific target location -- I'll go ahead and highlight the row here -- I can take the unit and drag it now and drop it on the target location right here. And when I do that now it pulls up a planning window. I can do this planning any number of ways. You can take an asset and drag it to a target, you can drag a target to an asset, you can create packages.
Narrator: Just like the army's FBCB2 digital tracker, this was a faster way of sharing information. An important step towards 'network-centric' warfare. But the quantity of information being shared -- on the ground and in the air -- created a new logistical problem. The army didn't run short of food or ammunition, it ran short of bandwidth -- the capacity to process and share all the data being generated.
John P. Stenbit: The big bottleneck is bandwidth. We had a lot more communications in Iraq than we'd ever had before, probably ten times as much as we had in '91. We were trying to bridge this -- where are we today, where we'd like to be in the future. So we were trying to do both.
Narrator: With so much new technology, some critics have said the Pentagon was over-ambitious in Iraq, and tried to push information through an infrastructure that couldn't support it.
John P. Stenbit: We had to scramble to get that bandwidth. So therefore there was overlap, there were redundancies, there were also places where there was more bandwidth than they needed and there were other places where they didn't have enough.
1st Lt. Jason Allen: It was really the first main generation of really trying to upgrade our communications systems. It showed some stuff that was maybe impractical. At the same time it's very hard because here in the garrison environment people are very spoiled with the email systems that they have, the ability to send large files. Out on the battlefield, at least at our level, there's not as much bandwidth.
Narrator: New data transfer capacity was being introduced as the war began, but unevenly. In some cases soldiers grew confused by having too many communication options.
Pat Garrett: They had multiple pieces of equipment, some of which had standard radio multiple frequencies, others that were satellite phone capable, others that were run off of direct communications. And the problem that radio men had was that, what system do you pay attention to?
1st Lt. Jason Allen: You know my job's to help the Battalion communicate, to make sure that- I want to make things easier for them, by not throwing too many options out there. I mean, still the main job of Marines, we want them oriented, outward on the battlefield. Not staring down at a screen, not trying to figure out why their computer won't turn on.
Narrator: And there was a more mundane problem fighting a war in the information age.
John P. Stenbit: We had battery problems. Everybody needed new batteries all the time. I think that was the one very- that was the panic of the day for a couple of days, about how many batteries we needed.
Narrator: One consumer of batteries was night vision equipment. For Colonel Eric Schwartz, the ability to see in the dark was critical, when the enemy attempted to lay landmines on the road ahead of his unit.
LTC Eric Schwartz: The Iraqis came out early morning and tried to put mines out on a road, and we watched them do it through our night vision systems and they were 2400 meters away. They watched them, they were very deliberate about it. There were six guys in the back of a pickup truck. And once they laid all the mines out, they all got in the back of the truck, the guy started the ignition, the tank fired it went into the back widow of the truck and we went out and picked up the mines, and threw 'em off to the side of the road.
Narrator: By the end of the second week of war, the US Army and Marines were ready to drive towards Baghdad. Apache Longbow helicopters would lead the advance, dealing with enemy positions before the ground troops reached them. The Apache had proved vulnerable to ground fire during earlier fighting, but those who knew the helicopter best, remained confident in its abilities.
COL Mike Riley: Let me say this first off, in every combat operation that the Apache has been in, we have never lost a crew in combat. The airplane did exactly what it was supposed to do -- take the crew in, let them do their mission, take a helluva lot of hits and return. Yes tactics, techniques and procedures were adjusted as a result of some of the actions that were going on but that's, that's combat, that's doctrine, that's what happens. You know, as a former commander of a Longbow battalion I know what the aircraft can do, I know what the crews out there can do 'cos I know the training they go through.
Narrator: As they prepared for the next battle, the Apache crews experimented with new strategies. Flying in smaller groups, shooting on the move rather than while hovering, and relying less on missiles and more on the helicopter's rapid-fire gun. Mike Wells had been in the thick of some of the tough early fighting.
CW3 Mike Wells: The Iraqis camouflaged themselves very well and the best way to engage them was, come in low, fast, where they couldn't put any rounds into your aircraft. And a lot of times you're shooting at as little as 50 to 100 meters. It was a close fight, the responsiveness of the gun just suited that type of enemy very well.
Narrator: Using these new tactics, Apaches formed the spearhead as the army faced its biggest challenge so far -- the Karbala Gap -- a potential choke point, and the last natural barrier before Saddam Hussein's capital. Colonel Dan William's helicopters were ordered to attack first, straight into the area where an Apache had been brought down by ground fire 10 days earlier.
LTC Dan Williams: One of my officers was looking out with a pair of binoculars before we took off in the dark and saying, "We have to be very, very careful." And we sort of chuckled and said "Roger let's go". I felt that we would lose a soldier that night, or lose an airplane that night. There was nothing but a series of laser like lights shooting, in some cases, for Apaches. I led with fire blazing and we encountered T-72s and Illushin 23s and dismounts, but nowhere near the numbers we thought we would. Still the infantry and the amour pushed us click-by-click and as we cleared they came behind us so we basically punched the division through that small narrow field.
Narrator: Unlike before, the Apaches were not fighting alone this time.
BG E. J. Sinclair: What had made that especially successful was the joint precision strike effort that was done -- we had British Air Force dropping bombs. In fact I drove through that area about three days later and it was completely littered with destroyed vehicles.
Narrator: This tape is taken from one of General Sinclair's Apaches, at the height of the Karbala battle. It shows the helicopter using a laser, to highlight a target for a British Harrier jet.
PILOT: Ten, nine, eight -- That is a kill.
Narrator: Below the helicopters, the Third Infantry Division's tanks were also going into action.
LTC Eric Schwartz: We got into some pretty good contact and we went down some very narrow streets, we took some pretty intense artillery fire, mortar fire. We ended up stumbling into an Iraqi armored compound and we destroyed that one pretty quick.
Narrator: With ground and air forces operating in unison, the battle at Karbala demonstrated what a network centric military can achieve.
Andrew Krepinevich: If Blitzkreig was created when the Germans put together planes, tanks and radios, this was Blitzkreig at its highest form.
Narrator: In the face of continuous attacks by day and night, the Iraqi army crumbled.
LTC Dan Williams: Seven hours later at dawn we ended that phase of the operation by having 13 Iraqis surrender to us at the Northern side and we had indeed passed the 3rd Infantry Division through and we were on our way to Baghdad. There was no stopping us.
Andrew Krepinevich: When the 3rd Division shot the Karbala Gap, it was beginning to live up to the vision the Army has of how it's going to fight future wars. And that motto or slogan is, we will see first, we will know first, we will act first, and we will finish decisively.
Narrator: The 3rd Infantry Division quickly reached the suburbs of Baghdad and seized the international airport. As US Marines fought their way in from the opposite side of the city, some at home feared an urban bloodbath, as soldiers fought house-to-house. But the army set out to prove that it was equipped to take Baghdad without weeks of street fighting.
MG Buford C. Blount III: One of my intents was to break their will to fight, you know, to let them know that we're here, we're in Baghdad, we're gonna be able to seize the city, that the regime was falling. And so I wanted to very quickly do what now is called a Thunder Run.
Narrator: The 'Thunder Runs' were aggressive, heavily-armored patrols deep into the city.
LTC Eric Schwartz: We caught Baghdad by surprise because they had been told over their radios that no American Forces had gone North of Najaf. Well clearly we had so what we wanted to do was we wanted to get in there, we wanted to punch hard and we wanted to say "Hey, here we are. You want some more of this?"
SFC Jerold Pyle: Some of the little white pick-ups the little technical trucks that they had built came screaming down the highway at us. That was a kind of a hairy situation.
LTC Eric Schwartz: You name it -- if they could bring it out, they would shoot it. They would fire at us from the buildings, from the grounds, from everywhere. The volume of fire was just tremendous.
SFC Jerold Pyle: We used the main gun, the co-ax machine gun, the loaders machine gun, the 50 cal, I was also using an M4 off the side. When we got all done I started counting bullet holes and dings where it had strikes on the tank and I got to 100 on the number one skirt on the left side and I quit counting.
Narrator: For an army with the latest technology, the fighting during the Thunder Runs was anything but high-tech.
LTC Eric Schwartz: One of the loaders, a 20 year old PFC was gunning down some Iraqis and he ran out of ammunition so he was in the process of loading up some new ammunition, the Iraqi got so close he dumped it, he took the box on ammunition and he threw it at the guy and he hit him and knocked him down while another tank finished him off. That's not distance warfare that's 20 feet away.
Narrator: But distance warfare and technology were a crucial part of the urban battle plan. Never before had so much close air support been employed in the heart of a city, the result of intense planning by General Moseley's air command team.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley: The entire metropolitan area of Baghdad was built as a grid by the land component staff who did an amazing job of taking this in areas and blocking them into zones and then areas down to each individual building with a number.
Narrator: Also helping the troops fight their way into Baghdad, were small un-manned aircraft called Predators. All 16 Predators in action over Iraq were operated from the United States, six thousand miles away. Here in Langley, Virginia, they analyze pictures from the Predators' surveillance cameras.
SSgt Veronica Ortiz: A lot of times we will act as what I like to call Big Brother. We'll go ahead and tell them what's down the road, what they can expect, what's coming.
SSgt Mark Mogle: One of the Predators over the city located a convoy of artillery pieces that were setting up, firing on coalition forces and then moving very rapidly. Because of the Predator's ability to loiter over target and follow and its full motion video we could watch it as it happened. So what we could do is report what we see the activity that we see to the decision makers at the Air Operations Center and then they can direct combat air support in to take out those enemy forces and we were able to do that for several days and one by one take out these artillery pieces.
Narrator: The Predators didn't just see -- they could fight as well. The American-based controllers remotely fired their missiles into targets like the Information Ministry in Baghdad.
SSgt Veronica Ortiz: In a sense, it does feel kind of strange being away from the battlefield, fighting the war from here. But as any of the analysts will tell you, once we walk into the van, we are in the war, we're in theatre, we're all business.
Narrator: The combination of high technology and the brute force of the tanks of the Third Infantry Division, quickly brought the city under American control -- and caused Saddam Hussein's regime to fall. Removing it had cost 170 American and British lives -- along with an estimated ten thousand Iraqi soldiers and between four and ten thousand civilians.
Since the fall of Baghdad the Pentagon has been assessing the lessons learned in Iraq, and continuing to transform into a 'network centric' force. It is developing a laser-based communications system that promises to provide hundreds of times more bandwidth than was available in Iraq. The Air Force is developing smaller bombs that create less collateral damage. Tests have begun on 250 pound JDAM's -- a tenth the size of most used in Iraq. The Air Force is also working on new unmanned aircraft that will be as large and almost as powerful as an F-16 fighter-bomber. And the US Navy has a new Tomahawk cruise missile that can loiter unobserved in the sky as it awaits target details.
LT Joe Ring: The Tomahawk is gonna perform almost like a manned tactical aircraft. It's gonna go into a theater and it's gonna wait to be given its mission and when that mission comes, it'll execute. I think eventually the enemies or potential enemies will have to ask themselves, "Do I have any chance against this force? With all the capabilities they have." And I think the answer's going to be "No" for most of our potential enemies and hopefully then we will be able to deter war.
Narrator: During the summer of 2003, the men and women of the 3rd Infantry Division, returned home to Fort Stewart, in Hinesville, Georgia. Their military force had destroyed Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in just 21 days of combat. But back in Iraq, continued guerrilla fighting was prolonging the need for a strong military presence, beyond the announced end of major combat operations. More US troops were killed in the six months following the war than during the initial drive to Baghdad. In Langley, the Predator operators were kept busy.
SSgt Mark Mogle: Unfortunately we still have some sections of the country that we're still interested in monitoring to keep them from attacking our forces. There's been a lot of sabotage incidents so things like that, like making sure the water stays on, make sure the electricity's running and just helping the forces on the ground try to maintain some sort of stability.
Narrator: But for jobs like these, technology provides little added advantage.
Dr. James G. Roche: There's nothing in technology that's really doing a lot that can replace all of our ground troops. We can try to look for ways to help those ground forces, but they really can't be substituted for -- because they're dealing with human beings and they're dealing with communities and they're trying to weed out from a lot of very decent people the bad actors and that's something that's very difficult.
Narrator: Since March 19, 2003, the men and women of the US military have toppled the Iraqi regime and captured its leaders. And they have done so with fewer casualties than would have been expected, during a single day's combat in France during World War II.
However, policing, reconstructing and rebuilding Iraq in the face of guerrilla attacks has demonstrated that despite all of the latest technology, the Pentagon must still rely on large numbers of old-fashioned infantry troops, who will be deployed in harm's way for long periods of time.
Andrew Krepinevich:If the American military is able and prepared to win the war of regime change, leveraging all the hi-technology we have, then we also better be ready for the stability operations that follow, which tend to be protracted, which tend to be manpower intensive, which tend to drive down the value of technology.
Dr. James G. Roche: I think the American military ten years hence will use technology where technology is best to be used, but will never forget that there is nothing that can substitute for the judgment and the brains and the sense of excellence and the commitment of fighting men and women.
LTC Eric Schwartz: Technology was very helpful to us, but it by far did not make anything easy. This is a tough, tough business and to see it on television I'm sure is one thing, but to actually live it with these soldiers, this is hell. There is not a single soldier in my battalion, my task force, that looked forward to war. There's nobody that hates war more than a soldier.
Produced and Directed by
DETLEV M. PETERS JR
Original music by
KEN MORSE LTD
RED WELLY STUDIOS
NAVY VISUAL NEWS
3RD INFANTRY DIVISION PUBLIC AFFAIRS
AIR FORCE MEDIA DESK
JOINT COMBAT CAMERA CENTER
DEFENSE VISUAL INFORMATION CENTER
1ST MARINE DIVISION COMBAT CAMERA
U.S. ARMY AVIATION CENTER
NORTHROP GRUMMAN CORPORATION
THE BOEING CORPORATION
AL JAZEERA TELEVISION
Series Open and Additional Graphics
Series Open and Additional Graphics
JULIE SCHAPIRO THORMAN
Production Management, UK
Executive Producers, UK
Executive in Charge
WILLIAM R. GRANT
A Brook Lapping/Carlton production for Thirteen/WNET New York in association with Carlton International
© 2004 Educational Broadcasting Corporation and Carlton International
INNOVATION was produced by Thirteen/WNET New York, which is solely responsible for its content.