21st Century Warfare

B-52 B52 bomber California Sept. 19 AP

The special forces who were the first American combat troops on the ground in Afghanistan produced the most telling image of this conflict: U.S. soldiers riding on horseback into the first war of the 21st century.

CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports even before September 11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been talking about transforming the military from the force that fought the Cold War into a force that could fight more unconventional wars, ones in which a vial of anthrax is a more likely threat than a nuclear missile.

The U.S. fired its first shot in this new war on Oct. 7. At first it looked like yet another demonstration of high tech firepower. Despite appearances, the chairman of the joint chiefs insisted it was a different kind of conflict.

"If you try to quantify what we're doing today in terms of previous conventional wars, you're making a huge mistake," Gen. Richard Myers said on Oct. 9. "That is 'old think' and that will not help you analyze what we're doing."

The weapons are essentially the same ones that were used two years ago in the war against Serbia. But the satellite guided bombs didn't turn the tide of battle until special forces got on their horses and began calling in the strikes.

Rumsfeld explained this time out, "There is no question but that the better targeting information we have, the better the effect is on the ground... and the more people we get on the ground, the better the targeting information is."

Better targeting also came from the airborne unmanned Predator reconnaissance vehicle. It was used to track the Serb army in Kosovo, but in Afghanistan it has come into its own, lingering over the battlefield for hours at a time sending back detailed intelligence of what is happening on the ground.

The weapons aren't new -- it's the way they're linked together. The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) picks up something moving on the ground, the Predator goes over to see exactly what it is and sends the image directly to an AC-130 gunship which attacks the target.

"You look at new ways to connect things so that the capability is different, and you change some modest fraction of your force, with the effect being transformational," Rumsfeld said.

There's more transformation to come. The CIA has been using the Predator not just for reconnaissance, but to fire missiles at any target it spots.

It's only a matter of time before aircraft routinely fly strikes without any pilot in the cockpit. But in this first war of the 21st century the workhorse has been that quintessential cold war weapon, the B-52 bomber. You might not call it "old think," but you could call it back to the future.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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