LONDON, March 19 (UPI) -- Plans for a dramatic new role for Britain's Royal Air Force on Day One of the war against Iraq are in question because a Welsh farmer worried about his cows has forced cancellation of a test of the new Storm Shadow bunker-busting cruise missile.
Ministry of Defense officials said cancellation of the test at the Pendine Sands range in Carmarthenshire, Wales, last week will not stop Tornado pilots from using the missile if they really need to, but they accept it does mean Storm Shadow isn't officially cleared for operations.
The ministry wouldn't talk about details of the test, but defense sources said a safety question remains for the aircrews when the missile is released from the aircraft. Unsure of exactly where the precision-guided missile might land on Pendine Sands, the MoD extended the "safety footprint" of the seaside range beyond its 32 square miles to include the homes of about a dozen residents on land adjacent to the range. This included Long Ridge Farm, where Gwyn and Doreen Lewis and their son Neil look after a 130-head herd of milk cows.
The Lewis's could not be reached for comment, but they told the Western Mail in Cardiff they couldn't move, because of their cows, for the minimum six hours the MoD requested for the test, and maximum 56 hours if it failed and they had to do it again.
"There is no question of forcing people from their homes," said an MoD spokesman. "There is a safety issue under the missile's configuration and the range has to be declared safe before this test can be conducted. We are reviewing our options. We are working hard with MBDA (the manufacturers) to make this weapon available."
The cancellation is the latest setback for Storm Shadow, the RAF's long-awaited cruise missile which can not only fly at least 350 miles to its target but whose 1,000-pound BROACH warhead can precisely smash through 5 feet of concrete with the same power as a bomb five times its size.
About 1,000 of the missiles are believed to have been ordered and the first handful are currently deployed with RAF Tornado GR4 strike aircraft in the Gulf, according to RAF officials. Each missile costs about $140,000.
Last summer Tornado aircrews successfully had three tests of the missile at the China Lake range in California, over desert similar to that in Iraq. But undisclosed technical problems remained and Storm Shadow was not accepted into service on its due date last November.
The missile is a development of the smaller French Apache missile, and following the merger of British Aerospace Dynamics and France's Matra in 1996 it was developed into the Storm Shadow for Britain and Italy and Scalp EG for France and Greece.
Storm Shadow is expected to transform the strategic strike power of the RAF, which has significantly lagged behind the U.S. Air Force and Navy since five Tornados were lost on low-level bombing missions at the start of 1991 Gulf War. The RAF caught up, to a degree, in having laser-guided bombs when the Kosovo campaign started in 1999, but the Tornados were effectively sidelined when bad weather meant the bombs could not be dropped. The U.S. Air Force, on the other hand, did have bombs and missiles guided by satellites of the global-positioning system.
Storm Shadow compares with the best of America's air launched cruise missiles, and although the Royal Navy still takes pre-eminence with its submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, the RAF is ready to resume its Day One capability of striking the most important targets. These are expected to include Iraqi military command and control centers, deep munitions storage locations and communications centers.
With two Storm Shadows under each wing a Tornado pilot approaches his target at medium or low level and, in the case of Iraq, may not even need to enter the country. The missile flies very low along pre-programmed route, matching its height to the land and then pops up to around 300 feet, jettisons its nose cone to allow a high resolution infrared sensor to scan for its target, identifies the exact aiming point and either strikes, aborts or finds a secondary target. The second missile does the same thing.
The RAF has further new bombing power with Paveway I and Paveway II precision-guided bombs, the former carrying a 1,000-pound warhead and the latter a 2,000-pound warhead. With a further Enhanced Paveway the bombs can either be laser-guided to their targets or use GPS satellite guidance if the weather is bad.
Either way the Paveways give the RAF an all-weather capability that was not available to the British in the Kosovo operation.
And Harrier GR7 jump jets have a new lease of life with new U.S.-made Maverick anti-tank missiles, enabling the RAF to be placed in air-tasking orders alongside American aircraft to hit Republican Guard tanks and artillery. They may be in action from Day One in an effort to knock out any Iraqi artillery guns that could fire chemical weapons at advancing allied troops.
According to senior U.S. defense experts, the much-improved RAF strike capability is being warmly received by American air planners.
"The RAF has tremendous respect from all the branches of the U.S. military," said a senior U.S. Air Force official currently involved in CentCom planning. "My personal feeling is that if the Brits have a weapons capability that can run with our own it will be most welcome. I'd go so far as to say we will make sure they will be there (even at the expense of American involvement)."
Anthony Cordesman, a senior military adviser both to the Pentagon and to the U.S. Congress, said British involvement in Iraqi operations is essential, and not a sideline of U.S. plans. He had no concerns about the RAF using a weapon untested in war.
"The U.S. and U.K. are fully coordinated in a common system to minimize collateral damage," said Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "And anyway, the U.S. is going in with a lot of untested ordnance, too."