Iraqi Jet, U.S. Spy-Plane Dogfight

predator drone

U.S. and British warplanes bombed Iraqi air-defense sites after Iraqi jets violated the southern no-fly zone.

Pentagon officials say the Iraqis hope to shoot down another unmanned Predator spy-plane. They managed to do that two weeks ago and CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports on the dogfight the Predator lost.

The Iraqis have finally found an American plane they can outmaneuver and outgun, reports Martin. It is the Predator unmanned reconnaissance drone, which orbits over southern Iraq at speeds of less than 100 miles per hour armed with missiles that have a shorter range than the ones carried by Iraqi warplanes.

In the video obtained for 60 Minutes II, the Predator's camera spots an Iraqi MiG, that white blip in the middle of the screen. The MiG fires a missile and the trail can be seen moving left to right. The Predator fires back. The trails of the two missiles streak by each other. But one falls short and the other doesn't. That second white dot is the Iraqi missile just before it hits the Predator.

The Air Force cannot afford to lose many Predators since it only has about 20. That's enough to patrol the no fly zone, but if it comes to war with Iraq, the Predators will be assigned a much bigger mission -- searching the Iraqi desert for mobile scud missile launchers. It's a high stakes mission since Saddam Hussein could arm them with chemical or biological warheads.

In the last war, he only fired scuds armed with conventional explosives, but one hit a barracks in Saudi Arabia killing 28 American soldiers. In all, Iraq fired 88 scuds and the U.S. failed to score any confirmed kills against them, probably the single biggest failure of an otherwise victorious operation.

This time American commanders are counting on the predator to spot the scuds when they come out of hiding and kill them before they can get off a shot.

Predator crews -- who fly the aircraft from a trailer -- have been training for the scud hunt at their home base of Indian Springs, Nevada, and were one of the first units to be ordered to the Persian Gulf as part of the buildup for war.

It's a weapon the U.S. didn't have last time. But there is very little margin for error. Iraqi missile crews can come out of hiding, set up, fire and drive away -- all in less than 10 minutes.