WASHINGTON -- An air campaign in Bosnia, should it occur JTC would probably entail four or five days of high-altitude precision night-bombing, followed by up to two months of regular patrols designed to keep Serbian artillery at bay, defense analysts say.
An initial foray could be expected to involve between 200 and 300 sorties designed to knock out the Serbian artillery that is shelling Muslim cities and to destroy Serbian command centers and supply lines.
High on the list of probable targets would be the Serbs' already dwindling gasoline supplies, which are needed to power the trucks that enable them to move their artillery.
At the same time, Bosnia's embattled Muslims would be given a steady stream of surplus U.S. weaponry -- from machine-guns, mortars and artillery to some sophisticated fire-control radar. They also would receive trucks and extra gasoline to provide added logistics support.
U.S. military personnel could be sent to help train Muslims in the use of the weaponry -- a process that would be carried out during the two-month period in which the United States hopes to provide air cover. After that, Washington would cut back its support.
The plan, as it is now envisioned by the administration, would fulfill the promise that President Clinton made Friday to develop "a very spe
cific, clearly defined strategy [and] clear tactical objectives . . . which would have a beginning, a middle and an end."
Nevertheless, defense experts warned Friday that the strategy still is a risky one that ultimately might fail to stop the bloodshed as quickly -- or as effectively -- as the White House hopes.
Not only is artillery hard to hit -- particularly in high-altitude night-bombing -- but Bosnia has no ports for unloading large amounts of new weapons, and the Muslim forces are undisciplined and may prove difficult to mold into an effective fighting force.
"Even with all this capability, the Muslims have gotten themselves so dug into a hole that it's almost too late," says retired Air Force Col. Robert W. Gaskin, a former Pentagon planner now with Business Executives for National Security, a defense research group.
Don M. Snider, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed. "It's going to take a severe campaign of punishment to change Serb intentions," Mr. Snider said. "They are not going to be deterred by banging around some artillery pieces."
The aircraft would be laden with precision "smart" bombs, which are guided to their targets by infra-red radar that senses the heat emitted by weapons and soldiers and adjusts the steering-fins on the nose of each bomb. Accuracy levels are very high.