March 2003. The moon shone clearly through the March night air on an ocean that was unusually calm for the time of year. It was almost as though nature itself knew that something was afoot. Forty-eight hours ago the ultimatum was given: “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.”
Several miles off the Iraqi coast, a thin reed-like object sat still amidst the gentle rolling waves. Considerable effort had gone into making this particular protrusion as undetectable as possible. For example, it was covered in a radar absorbing material. Currently it was receiving precise positioning data from a constellation of satellites surrounding the earth. The antenna was connected to SSN-21 or the USS Seawolf. A carryover from the bad-old-days of the Cold War, her production line was abruptly stopped when there were no more viable threats to defend against. Only three were made, of which she was the first. Rumored to be more quiet running at top speed than her predecessor while tied to a pier, the Seawolf was the most silent—and one would dare say most formidable—ship at sea. The data it was downloading from the satellites was automatically being cross-loaded to four BGM-109 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles in its torpedo bay. They were already pre-programmed with targeting coordinates and just needed to make exactly sure where they currently were, the better to hit their targets dead on.
No matter how often it’s witnessed, the sudden appearance of a rocketing projectile from the depths of the ocean never ceases to amaze the onlooker. In this case there were of course none. The missiles were launched in sequence, in fifteen second intervals—launching them all at once was a physical impossibility. The Tomahawk missile wasn’t originally designed for submarines. It therefore needed a shroud to better fit into the torpedo tube. The tube was filled with compressed air—nitrogen in this case—which protected the projectile while underwater, effectively keeping the missile dry until it broke the surface. Once its momentum brought it fully out of the water and an internal accelerometer detected that it was beginning to fall back towards the ocean, a rocket motor was fired and away it went. Tomahawks are different than regular missiles in that they’re more akin to unmanned aeroplanes. At half a million dollars a copy, the Tomahawk has guidance controls that would make a 747 blush.
The four missiles soared into the night sky one after the other and began flying in a holding pattern. Again, if there were anyone there to see the event they’d notice that it was as if the birds were waiting for something. In fact, they were. Several launch platforms had been used for the mission, of which the Seawolf was one. Simultaneously, a squadron of F-117A fighter bombers based out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey released their payload of Tomahawks who would rendez-vous with those from the Seawolf. In total, forty missiles were programmed to fall from the sky at the exact same time on an unsuspecting Baghdad. In order to do this, the missiles circled around while their brethren gathered. Like a pack of hungry wolves before the kill, they grew in number until the moment they pounced on their prey.
The mission was simple and its premise predated the country launching the attack. Kill off the head and the body will die. What was however new about this particular incarnation was the marketing spin. The operation was dubbed “Shock and Awe,” as though the people watching it unfold while eating their TV dinners were too dumb to understand that missiles falling from the sky caused shock and awe in those on the receiving end. Market the operation though they did, the underlying purpose went unfulfilled. Because even though you can put a spin on death, terror and carnage so as to impress the cattle back home, if you’re aiming for the head and hit the barn you really haven’t accomplished much. Except maybe to put on a very expensive and destructive light show for the cows.
Tomahawk missiles, sophisticated machines that they are, are still machines. Bits of metal and plastic precisely engineered and assembled would be useless paperweights were it not for their programming. And even though they did exactly as they were told during Operation Iraqi Freedom they weren’t told the right thing. The error lay not in the machine but in the intelligence data that fed them. And so, forty Cruise Missiles were launched and twenty million dollars were wasted on demolishing several Iraqi houses and killing as many families.
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