A newly declassified report says the Pentagon and weapons makers overstated the effectiveness of high-technology aircraft, bombs and other systems during the Persian Gulf War.
The congressional report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, says laser-guided bombs and Tomahawk missiles were less effective than claimed, aircraft touted as attacking in all conditions had trouble in clouds or dust, and the F-117 stealth fighter may not have been the invulnerable weapon of surprise that its supporters touted.
While the report analyzes performance in a conflict of more than six years ago, its conclusions could weigh on multibillion dollar decisions the Pentagon and Congress will make in the coming months, particularly on the B-2 stealth bomber.
The report cited “a pattern of overstatement” by weapons manufacturers and defense officials in connection with high-tech weapons.
“The gap between what has been claimed for air power in Desert Storm and what actually occurred was sometimes substantial,” the report by the General Accounting Office concluded.
Defense Week, which was to detail the report in Monday’s edition, quoted Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who requested the report, as saying taxpayers should not have had to wait years for information to be declassified about the costly weapons.
“The GAO report documents a pattern of overstated, misleading, inconsistent or unverifiable claims on the performance of individual, particularly high-technology, weapons systems,” Dingell said.
In a rebuttal, Frederick Frostic, deputy assistant secretary of defense for requirements and plans, said the analysis was simplistic. Frostic said the GAO failed to factor into its study that the more complex weapons were used against the toughest defenses, which made comparisons with older weapons impossible.
The GAO report makes these key points:
The Pentagon claimed laser-guided bombs dropped by the F-117 hit their target 80 percent of the time, but the GAO found a third of those “hits” could not be corroborated.
Despite Air Force claims that the F-117 achieved complete surprise during attacks on the opening night of the war in January 1991, the GAO found after-action reports indicated that some stealth fighters were fired upon before they dropped bombs.
While the F-117 avoided downing and damage better than any other plane, it was used exclusively at night while aircraft that sustained damage flew daylight missions.
Contrary to one-target, one-bomb claims, between four and 10 laser-guided bombs were needed to attack point-targets such as bridges.
Clouds, humidity and dust hampered the F-16 fighter’s ability to deliver guided munitions, contrary to manufacturer claims that the plane performed its mission “no matter what the weather, day or night.”