Dropping Blanks?

Is the Pentagon overstating the effects of the bombing campaign? Michael O’Hanlon thinks so:

Taking a historical case first, an attrition threshold of 50 percent was our goal in Desert Storm. After 40 days of bombing, however, we had achieved no better than a loss rate of about 25 percent in Iraqi formations.

True, Iraqi armor was more plentiful then, meaning there was a great deal more to destroy. It is also true that fewer U.S. planes carried precision munitions in those days, meaning that aircraft with laser-guided bombs had to do most of the work on their own. But we also had ability to conduct “tank plinking” of Iraqi armor that was badly camouflaged in the desert terrain of Kuwait.

Now, by contrast, we are facing Iraqi units in a situation where vegetation is plentiful, human dwellings are much more numerous, and Iraqi forces are more experienced at hiding from U.S. and British airpower than they were 12 years ago.

One thing O’Hanlon fails to take into account is that Coalition ground forces are in much closer contact with Republican Guard units than they were in ’91. As in, they’re actually in contact. The ’91 air war was conducted with Coalition and Iraqi forces on opposite sides of a long series of trenches, berms, and obstacles. That’s not the case today — and nothing can direct air fire more accurately than troops on the ground.

Best guess? The truth is somewhere in the middle.