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Monday, February 16, 1998 Published at 16:37 GMT

Special Report

Accurate to within a metre
image: [ The cruise missiles of today are more accurate than in 1991. ]
The cruise missiles of today are more accurate than in 1991.

"We were looking out of our window, out of our fifth-floor room in the hotel, when a missile passed by on the line of the road on which the hotel stands...and it just went straight down the road. Where it was aimed for, I do not know." John Simpson, BBC Foreign Affairs Editor - Baghdad, 1991.

VIDEO: BBC correspondent Brian Barron reporting on the launch of Tomahawk Cruise missiles in 1991
The cruise missile was an extraordinary sight during the Gulf War. Correspondents filed reports of these weapons apparently following Baghdad's street plan to find their mark.

They became a symbol for a new type of war: one where you could stand hundreds of miles away from your target, and still fly the bomb through the front door.

It was "clean", even though we learnt much later that these smart weapons often did the dumb thing and missed their intended targets.

Ground-hugging technology

The Tomahawk Cruise missile is 20 feet long. It flies at more than 700 mph, close enough to the ground to take enemy air defences by surprise.

It was originally developed to deliver a nuclear payload, but has proved its use in the Gulf and against Serbian targets in Bosnia as a means of delivering conventional explosives.

Each missile usually carries a 1000lb charge, specially shaped to penetrate hardened concrete buildings.

More accurate missiles

Saddam knows the missiles today are superior to the ones that devastated his key military installations in 1991. This time they are faster, and they pack a much bigger punch. But their accuracy has also been improved. Cruise uses an onboard computer to match the terrain below with a contour map stored in its brain.

The map comes courtesy of satellite pictures and U2 spy missions; the ability to recognise the ground below depends on the GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system and some sophisticated software. And, whereas the civilian GPS is only accurate to within several metres, the military version is said to be far more precise.

All the ships and submarines deployed in the Gulf by the US have the capability to launch cruise missiles.

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