Warplanes: September 5, 2001

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: For over half a century, the air force has concentrated on improving one number; CEP. That Circular Area Probable and in plain English it means the diameter of a circular area within which fifty percent of the bombs or missiles will land. Much progress has been made, to the point where some 90 percent of bombs will hit within a few feet of the aiming point. While this is an admirable accomplishment, it has not brought all that much success. That's because TLE and BDA have not kept up, TLE is target location error (means exactly that) and BDA is Bomb Damage Assessment (finding out if you hit what you think you hit). TLE is not as much of a problem as it used to be now that we have accurate navigation systems like GPS and older technology inertial navigation. For structures like buildings, bridges and tunnels, TLE is not as uncertain, especially during night or overcast weather, as it used to be. But for mobile targets like military units, especially their armored vehicles and artillery, TLE is still a major problem. This is because the guy on the ground still has a lot of tricks to deceive all the fancy radars and cameras that can see through trees, smoke and darkness. During the 1991 Gulf War and 1999 Kosovo operation, we discovered that TLE of mobile units was terrible. Unfortunately we didn't find this out until the fighting was over and we were able to examine the damage on the ground. This pointed out that BDA wasn't so hot either. This would not be as much of a problem if TLE were better, but good BDA enables you to better correct your problems and nail the enemy. After the embarrassments of the 1990s, and the realization that even better CEP won't change much, more attention is being paid to TLE and BDA. In America, "digitalization" is seen as a big part of the cure for bad TLE. Digitalization means putting all tanks, warplanes, artillery and infantry on the same battlefield data network. Targets would be spotted, verified and attacked within seconds. Getting it to work will take some time, but early field experiments have been impressive. BDA is another matter, with decades of failure behind it. But if TLE can be improved, breakthroughs in BDA won't be so critical.