If war breaks out, the first Iraqis to know it will be hunched over radar screens in the middle of the night around airfields, surface-to-air missile sites and missiles that could be used to deliver chemical weapons, experts say.

And if the Stealth fighter is as good as billed, those radar watchers may not see the attack coming until the last few seconds - too late to mount an effective defense.War-fighting experts generally agree that an initial softening up with air power will be the first stage of any war with Iraq, with Iraqi military-related industrial sites next on the targeting list along with dug-in infantry and artillery sites that must be pounded to weaken their resistance before any ground battle is launched.

In interviews and in testimony before Congress last week, experts laid out their scenarios for how a war would unfold. The only real question is whether Iraqi ground forces in Kuwait would fold immediately, surrender after a brief period or put up a significant fight. Many believe U.S. forces will surround Kuwait from the west to isolate the Iraqi troops there.

All agree the war will start in the dead of night to make best use of American technology and quite likely will occur during high tides to ease the way for any amphibious operations. Calendar watchers will note that in the coming months, periods of no moon and high tides come Dec. 19-22, Jan. 17-20, Feb. 16-18 and March 17-19.

Retired Rear Adm. Gene La Rocque, director of the Center for Defense Information, thinks the first bombs are going to be tossed at air bases and missile sites, dug-in ground forces, highways, command posts and chemical and nuclear sites along with weapons assembly plants.

Then, he said, "U.S. armored and mechanized divisions would drive into Iraq to the west of Kuwait. U.S. Marine amphibious forces would tie down Iraqi troops on the coasts of Kuwait and southern Iraq. U.S. Navy and Air Force planes would maintain control of the air over Iraq. Iraqi forces in Kuwait would be cut off from Baghdad. Arab and European forces would block Iraqi counter attacks."

In as little as a week, he forecast, U.S. forces would be more than halfway to Baghdad and in three months Baghdad would be captured.

U.S. tank forces are in positions that would allow them easy access to the broad, hard-packed plain that lies at the confluence of the western Kuwait border with Iraq and Saudi Arabia, an area once plied by the trade caravans of old that is so desolate there is nothing natural to break the horizon.

La Rocque forecasts as many as 45,000 casualties in such a campaign, including about 10,000 deaths. Other estimates run lower, depending on whether much ground combat is necessary.

Former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who also ran the CIA and the Energy Department, noted that there is no question among U.S. military planners that allied forces will win.

If an all-out assault against Iraqi ground forces is not needed, he said, and air power advantages are used, casualties can be held down and "in between four and eight weeks it should be all over - safe for starving out or mopping up the remaining Iraqi forces in Kuwait."

Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, who had a career as a Marine fighter pilot and astronaut before coming to the Senate, said ground forces may be needed and the air action is largely a supporting role used to so stun and weaken an opponent on the ground that he is unable to mount a credible defense.

"It's the most ideal air warfare situation I've ever run into," he said. "I think the first thing we should do is not go after all these (industrial and military plant) targets we have talked about but the surface-to-air missile sites and anti-air sites, knock down everything you can shoot at in the air you can possibly find, establish air superiority, then pick and choose and hit every tank emplacement, every gun," he said.

That way, he said, "when we do have to go in there on the ground, if anybody does have to, it's far far easier than it would have been with a Greek phalanx approach with the Army going off from square one without any kind of preparation being done ahead of time." It would be "idiotic," he said, to try frontal assaults like World War I-style trench warfare.

John Wheeler, a 1966 West Point graduate who was involved in creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, said, "The way an assault would begin would be to use air power, standoff weapons like cruise missiles, take out their air force as quickly as possible, then defang the Iraqi military by eliminating as much of their war goods ability as possible. All that starts immediately."