First Lt. Brant Daley moved the cursor on his computer screen over a circle marked with the letter "T" and punched a button, generating a list of detailed information about the airplane represented by the blip.
"He's a true friend," said Daley, of North Bergen, N.J. "He's not flying in a hostile manner and he's not flying toward us."The information would have been good news to the pilot flying the aircraft because Daley's computer screen is the nerve center for a Patriot missile battery, one of the U.S. Army's main air defense systems.
In the event of an Iraqi attack, Daley and other members of the "Des-ert Dogs" - the Delta Battery from Fort Bliss, Texas - would be responsible for shooting down hostile aircraft and missiles. But Daley said he isn't worried about that.
"We are the top," he said. "We are the most sophisticated air defense system."
Although the Patriot system has yet to be tested in combat, Maj. Peter Hayward, 36, of Reading, Mass., said he is confident the battery, which is also armed with Stinger surface-to-air missiles, could carry out its mission.
Hayward said during practices in the United States that the Patriot battery had been able to shoot down Lance missiles, which are somewhat similar to the Soviet-made Scuds used by Iraq.
The major said Iraqi modifications to increase the range of the Scud missile would make it more vulnerable to U.S. ground-to-air defense systems because of the "higher, more predictable trajectory."
While the missile battery has its own radar system for monitoring the aircraft in the vicinity, it is also linked by radio to AWACS reconnaissance aircraft constantly circling over Saudi Arabia.
The nerve center for the Delta battery is an air-conditioned trailer filled with computer equipment. It is parked on a patch of sand surrounded by antennas and generators covered with camouflage netting.
The missile launchers, which can fire four missiles each and are reload-able, are nearby and look like rectangular brown boxes mounted on a platform and tilted skyward. Once a missile is fired, Daley said, he could watch the results on his computer screen.
"It's an exhilirating experience to see the symbolics that appear on the screen," he said. The missile, Daley said, "looks like a football" and once it hits the target "you'll come up with a symbol for a probable kill."
So far, he's only fired at drones during practice in the United States, but Daley said the results made him confident of the Patriot system's capability.