Northrop Grumman sees dramatic rise of IT-directed weapons

The Department of Defense has relied more heavily on precision-guided weapons in recent conflicts and may do so more in future engagements, according to a report released by Northrop Grumman Corp.'s internal think tank.

This comes as good news to the IT industry, whose tools play an essential part in supporting such systems.

"Precision weapons are only as good as the information systems supporting them," said Robert Haffa, who is a co-author of the report and director of Northrop Grumman's Analysis Center.

"Future War: What Trends in America's Post-Cold War Military Conflicts Tell Us About 21st Century Warfare" looked at how military operations were conducted throughout the 1990s in order to find long-term trends in the conduct of warfare.

The researchers looked at data from the war in Iraq in 1991, the Allied Force Kosovo mission in 1999 and the 2001 Enduring Freedom operation in Afghanistan.

Although precision guided weapons such as laser-guided bombs have been used since the Vietnam War, their use in relation to all air-delivered weapons has jumped from 7.7 percent in Desert Storm to 43 percent in Kosovo and to 60.4 percent during Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the report found.

During Desert Storm, 17,644 precision-guided weapons were used, 7,055 were used in Kosovo, and 10,548 were used in Enduring Freedom, the report found.

Haffa said the improved sensor technologies on the weapons as well as improvements in the supporting information systems increased the precision and lowered the cost of the weapons, making their deployment more practicable.

Use of the Global Positioning System has increased the ability of the weapons to navigate through adverse weather conditions, such as fog, rain or snow.

According to the report, the use of precision guided weapons in adverse weather conditions in relation to all weapon launches has risen from 13.4 percent in Desert Storm to 87.4 percent in Enduring Freedom.

The Defense Department is entering an age of "mass precision," or the ability to drop "hundreds of weapons precisely from one aircraft," Haffa said.

Although he would not speculate on how the success of these weapons would shift funding within the Defense Department, he did say that the Defense Department has taken notice of the success of these weapons.

The use of precisions guided weapons has helped reduce the number of casualties during times of conflict, from 3.2 per day during Desert Storm to 0.05 per day in Enduring Freedom.

"If you have 12 targets to hit, you only need 12 aircraft, so there are less personnel flying over the target area," Haffa said, speaking at a briefing announcing the release of the report.

Haffa said the report will be used by Northrop Grumman to better anticipate what changes will happen within the Defense Department.

(Updated March 3, 2003, 8:03 a.m.)

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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