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Is the Military Prepared for Afghan Winter?

Aired October 14, 2001 - 15:42   ET


STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Certainly, the United States led coalition in the war against terrorism is keeping a close eye now on the weather.

Catherine Callaway is with us now to talk more about what the military needs to do to prepare to fight as winter arrives. Catherine.

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, Stephen. Certainly, the fierce Afghan winter is just around the corner. We've already seen some changes in the weather since the airstrikes began. Let's talk now to our military analyst retired general Don Shepperd. He's joining us from our Washington bureau. Thanks for being with us again today.

Certainly, the weather considerations have not been paramount so far, general, but we've already seen a bit of a change in the weather. How is this going to effect the military?

MAJOR GENERAL DONALD SHEPPERD (RET), CNN MILITARY EXPERT: Well, Catherine, weather does have a factor that we have to consider in military operations. We can bomb through the weather. We have a new family of weapons that are satellite guided weapons that will allow us to go through the clouds and hit targets very, very precisely.

We don't have to rely anymore on just the infrared laser guided weapons. But weather is a factor and, courtesy of our CNN weather department, let us show you some animations.

Let's start up with a view of the world here and set this animation in motion. We're going to fly over the world, starting over the Red Sea, then over the Persian Gulf. We're going to zero in on Afghanistan and we're going to keep going from Afghanistan. We're going to take a look here at Kabul and we're going to take a look at Kandahar and we're going to keep running -- we're going to take a flight through the Khyber Pass, coming out of Quetta and Pakistan.

This is the Khyber Pass, with Kabul at the end. Now, you notice the steep mountains on either side. Well, let's bring weather into this, and let's put a low crowd deck right here, such as will come at the end of this month.

Rains come to the Khyber Pass at the end of October, and then later deep snow. What is means is, the satellites that are up here looking at that valley cannot see as well through clouds as they can in clear weather. We also have such a thing as "The Predator" which we'll take a look at later, taking pictures, and it also has to look through the weather or operate underneath it. If it operates under the weather, it makes it very vulnerable to getting shot down.

Now, the problem with seeing through the weather is, you have radars, but radars don't give you as good a picture as clear weather pictures from an actual camera.

CALLAWAY: Yeah, General Shepperd, I wanted to interject here, and maybe you can show us exactly what kind of pictures we can get from the satellite when the weather is good. I think we have a good indication of what you can see when the weather is good.

SHEPPERD: I can indeed. Now, this is Herat Airfield and here's the runway over here, and here's a bunch of aircraft that we are, that we ran strikes on. Now, these are terrific pictures, but these are commercially available satellite imagery, in the neighborhood of one meter, or about three feet. Our actual military photos are much better than that and allow us to tell us which of these airplanes is actually in commission.

Let's go to the after photo of the strikes, and you will notice that we are able to tell that we got the transport airplanes, that all of these are out of commission, maybe one might need to be restruck tomorrow. Well, you can really get a good picture.

Now, if you look through the weather and look at this same scene with just a radar, not a photographic camera, what -- you will not be able to see this with any such great detail. So, weather is a factor. If you have to look through it, you don't get as good a picture.

Now, we have other things, such as the Predator, which is one of our reconnaissance drones. It's a new family of reconnaissance drone that we're able to take and I understand we may have some video there.

Now, the Predator is a, if you will, a model aircraft, a large model aircraft, about 27 feet long, wingspan of 50 feet, 9 feet high. It's got three cameras in the nose: a regular photographic camera and it also takes infrared pictures and it also has a synthetic aperture radar. In addition, it has another camera that allows the operator to fly it.

It's got a ground station and a data link. So, if you can operate it in clear weather, it's really good. If you have to come under the weather, it's very vulnerable because it's slow, about 100 miles an hour. It can go 400 miles, operate up to 16 hours on station and return. A very, very valuable asset, but if you have to bring it above the weather to look at it with that radar, it's not as good a picture as underneath. So, weather is definitely a factor.

CALLAWAY: And the other unmanned aircraft, the Global Hawk, really operates too high in inclement weather, right?

SHEPPERD: Well, it does and it doesn't. The Global Hawk is one of the new family of drones that we have coming onboard. It's not clear whether we are going to use it yet, because it's in the early stages of development.

Traditionally, we try things on these new platforms, even though they're not ready. But it also will have the capability to look in clear weather, and through the weather, and it also has up to right now announced 30 hours on station. So, we have a family of censors that can watch this entire battlefield and listen as well as look, and they can listen day and night and in good weather and in bad. It's just that in bad weather, it makes it harder and we don't get the same picture we do in clear weather, Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Yeah, we've heard so much about the sophisticated weapons, general, that it's hard to believe that inclement weather could deter these types of weapon systems.

SHEPPERD: It doesn't declare the new weapon systems except in one way: the new weapons guide upon coordinates that are programmed into the weapons by the pilot or by targeteers. And then the satellites guide the weapons through a series of fins on the weapons to the target itself. So, if you know the coordinates, the exact coordinates of the target, you can get it there.

But, also, you can put airplanes airborne and if they see moving targets or targets that emerge or targets that aren't radar reflective, they can hit them with laser guided weapons even though you don't know the coordinates. So, you'd like to have good weather no matter where you are. Weather becomes a problem, but we have a way to deal with it. It's just not as easy when the weather is bad.

CALLAWAY: All right, thank you general. Certainly, the weather has been very much on the mind of the U.S. military in planning this operation. Thank you, General Shepperd.




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