Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Readies New Guns for Iraq

APSecond Lieutenant Tracie Martin showing off the Sensor Fuzed Weapon missile.
NEW YORK -- If the United States charges into war with Iraq, U.S. forces are expected to unsheathe several new weapons and tactics, including devices still under development.

U.S. military officials and analysts say the new weapons would target Iraqi armored vehicles, communications networks and the chemical and biological weapons that President George W. Bush's administration believes Iraq still cradles.

"The only time you get realistic feedback on new capabilities is during wartime," said Bob Martinage, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense think tank. "The military will take advantage of that time to test new systems."

New arms range from an Air Force munition that spews tank-hunting bomblets to shadowy electromagnetic-burst weapons that can roast the innards of computers and radios. Some weapons that get used may never be publicized.

"Once you're engaged and you have a capability that's almost ready, you'll try it," said Clark Murdock, former Air Force strategic planner now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "All kinds of things have been invented, particularly in the [classified] world, that will be used. If you use it and it works and no one knows, why talk about it?"

One key job for U.S. forces is to smash Iraq's military communications networks, especially those controlling ballistic missiles, analysts said.

The Air Force has so-called "bunker-busting" bombs designed to penetrate the concrete shelters that often protect such equipment.

But if civilians are nearby, the United States may fire a cruise missile tipped with a high-powered electromagnetic-pulse emitter -- a so-called e-bomb -- "which fries the electronics without killing the people," said Andrew Koch of Jane's Information Group.

The weapon's massive power surge is supposed to travel through antennas or power cords to wreck any unshielded electronic appliance -- civilian or military -- within a few hundred meters, according to studies cited by GlobalSecurity.org, a research organization.

The weapons have been studied for decades, but the military has said little about them.

The Pentagon has also developed penetrating bombs aimed not at blowing things up, but incinerating stocks of chemical and biological agents, Martinage and Koch said.

Precision-guided "agent defeat" bombs are supposed to puncture the warheads with titanium rods, then incinerate the agents inside without allowing vapor to escape, Martinage said.

Laser weapons might also see their first use by U.S. forces, said Rupert Pengelley, technical editor of Jane's Information Group. The army equipped its Bradley Fighting Vehicles with laser weapons in the 1991 Gulf War, but they were not used, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

In a pair of 1995 studies, Human Rights Watch called for a ban on laser arms, which it labeled "unnecessarily cruel and injurious." But Pengelley said the U.S. military believes it "can now use this on a fitting and legal manner."

A new Pandora's box-like bomb, dubbed the Sensor Fuzed Weapon, may supplant aircraft in some dangerous ground-attack missions. In the Gulf War, coalition pilots hunting Iraqi tanks often flew at low altitudes in the 1970s-era A-10 "Warthog."

When dropped above groups of armored vehicles, the bomb distributes several smaller bomblets that float toward earth on parachutes. Each fires four hockey puck-sized "skeet" that can home in on vehicles using laser seekers, said Steve Butler, engineering director at the Air Armaments Center at Eglin Air Force Base, near Pensacola, Florida.

One bomber toting 30 of the weapons can puncture and blow up vehicles across 12 hectares, Butler said.

The Sensor Fuzed bombs were available in the 1999 Kosovo war, but U.S. forces never found an appropriate concentration of Serbian armor on which to test them, said Air Armaments Center spokesman Jake Swinson.

The Air Force might also fire a stealthy new missile dubbed the JASSM, or joint air-to-surface standoff missile, with an accurate range of 320 kilometers, Butler said. The satellite-guided JASSM uses an infrared seeker to recognize targets. The missile is being readied for Iraq, although the Air Force has yet to complete testing, Butler and others said.

Ten prototypes of a new UAV, each slightly larger than a buzzard and controlled by individuals, are ready for use by the First Marine Division, now deployed in Kuwait and on ships in the Persian Gulf, said Jenny Holbert of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.

The Dragon Eye UAV can transmit video and sound wirelessly to help laptop-equipped marines "see" beyond the next hill, Holbert said. The Marines have yet to choose a contractor to build additional units.

The Marines have also developed a remote-controlled robot, called Dragon Runner, less than half the size of the 19-kilogram PackBot that U.S. troops used to search Afghan caves, military officials said. Camera-equipped Dragon Runner prototypes could scout buildings and streets in a dreaded urban combat setting in Iraq, officials said. The robot, which looks like a toy dune buggy, can roam a building after being tossed through a window.

Some analysts doubt such flashy technology would be much good if the war bogs down in street-to-street fighting.

"The downsides of urban combat outweigh all the progress of the last 12 years, by a lot," said Michael O'Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.