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The last time around, the U.S. military's inability to defeat the Scuds turned out to be its biggest failure in the war. In 1991 the U.S. dedicated 2,493 missions to what came to be called the "Great Scud Hunt." But it did not score one confirmable kill against a mobile missile or its launcher in Iraq--though it did destroy what turned out to be a few fuel trucks as well as some East German decoys that looked like the real thing. Scuds caused not only mayhem in Israel during the month the missiles rained down on Tel Aviv but also the deaths of 28 U.S. troops whose barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, were demolished by a Scud. Those 28 accounted for a fifth of all U.S. deaths in the war. Part of the problem was that in the beginning, Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. Army general who ran the war, underestimated the Scud. After all, the crude, 40-ft. Soviet-designed missile, which is in the arsenals of some 25 nations, has a bull's-eye a mile across. Schwarzkopf called it a "mosquito" that was "clumsy and obsolete." He resisted sending commandos into Iraq to hunt down the Scuds.
Schwarzkopf's intelligence about the missile was poor. Before the 1991 war, the U.S. believed that the crew of the 45-ton, Soviet-made truck that carries and launches the Scud would require half an hour to disassemble the launch gear and leave the scene after shooting. That would allow a fair amount of time for U.S. military satellites equipped with heat sensors to detect the flash of the launch and provide coordinates to allied aircraft that could move in for the kill. The Iraqi crews, however, were not following the Soviet owner's manual the U.S. was relying on; they had found ways to cut corners and were fleeing in as little as six minutes, scooting into caves or culverts where they could not be seen. Intensive U.S. bombing--including nightly B-52 strikes on suspected Scud routes--reduced but did not stop the launches.
This time the U.S. has some better ideas about where to find Scud launchers. Israeli special forces belonging to a unit called Shaldag (Hebrew for "Kingfisher") have been conducting reconnaissance missions in western Iraq, looking for likely launch sites that are near good hiding places. Israeli intelligence has identified for the U.S. these possible launch areas as well as the best elevated positions from which to keep track of them. Washington has promised Israel that U.S. commandos would be sent into western Iraq in the war's opening minutes to hunt down the Scud systems and call in air strikes to destroy them.
Those assurances are largely politically motivated because, in reality, there's a limited chance that commandos would come across Scud teams in the vastness of the Iraqi desert. Another resource for spotting Scud teams before they have shot a missile is the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (J-STARS) airplane, which was used experimentally in 1991. J-STARS scours the ground like an AWACS scours the skies, keeping track of things that move.