Twelve years later, however, the accuracy has improved to such an extent that military engineers now have a seat at the table, giving pilots very specific instructions for bomb placement.

McAllister assists in target selection. (Photo by Andrew G. Wright for ENR)

LT. Dave McAlister, in Iraq attached to the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) Engineer Group, assisted in prewar target selection for bridges in Iraq. As far as he knows, it is the first time that the military has used its structural engineers as part of the target selection process. "We want to seize the asset, but we want to destroy as little infrastructure as possible," he says. "It's important to deny the enemy the use of the bridge, but this war is really about liberation, not killing people or destroying infrastructure. We also want to repair and return it to service as soon as possible, once the area is secured."

Typically, a Marine pilot should avoid hitting an abutment–they're difficult to repair, says McAlister, a Knoxville native who holds undergraduate and master's degrees in civil engineering from the University of Tennessee. By the same token, leave the piers intact. Aim for a deck, preferably on the side under allied control. "It's easier to defend and also easier to work from when it's time to do your repairs," he adds.

He discussed the concept with Marine Air Wing pilots before the war began. "They really bought into the concept," he says. "They were confident that they could hit any spot I designated, with the weapons they have now."

Working from satellite photos and other intelligence, he supplied MAW pilots with very specific coordinates for the best place to bomb, from a strategically structural point of view. Something got lost in the translation and his system required a little tweaking, though. "The MAW coordinator came back with a photo of a bridge we'd discussed. The markup was in the middle of the bridge, which was not what I wanted," McAllister says. He sketched the bridge on a piece of paper and marked an X where he wanted the bomb to land. "I offered to work up the coordinates, but he said the paper would work just fine."

On the war's second night, a MAW pilot bombed the five-span bridge, which is in southern Iraq. The bomb destroyed the bridge deck, but left the piers on either side intact. Did X mark the spot? "Actually, he was off by about five or six ft," McAlister says with a grin. "But he got the job done nicely."

ENR Managing Senior Editor Andrew G. Wright is in Baghdad
with the Engineer Brigade of U.S. Army's Third Infantry

uring Operation Desert Storm, the Pentagon unveiled the programmed "smart bomb," a weapon so accurate that a pilot could drop it down a smokestack. Or so it seemed. Although the video from the Pentagon briefings were impressive, studies after the war showed that the smart bombs weren't nearly as smart as the Dept. of Defense initially claimed.