Pentagon readies microwave bomb for Baghdad
By Tony Allen-Mills
WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has accelerated development of a new generation of advanced precision weaponry that could be ready for use in a high-tech battle for Baghdad, according to US military sources.
Weapons ready for battlefield deployment include a microwave bomb that emits powerful pulses of energy to destroy enemy electronics, disable communications and even block vehicle ignitions, without hurting bystanders.
Defence researchers have also successfully tested a radical thermobaric warhead — previously described as a “vacuum bomb” — to be aimed at suspected chemical and biological stockpiles. The warheads are designed to produce a heat so intense that any contaminants released into the atmosphere are neutralised instantly.
After the success in Afghanistan of military innovations such as precision-guided bunker-busting bombs and remote-controlled Predator drones, Pentagon officials have been racing to develop previously experimental weapons that might prove invaluable should US troops be ordered into action in Iraq.
“We always want to be able to exploit developmental systems,” said General Gregory Martin, commander of US air forces in Europe. “We’ll use all techniques possible.”
Military scientists have long been intrigued by the potential harnessing of microwave technology to paralyse enemy capabilities. The US air force used a related technique to disable Yugoslavian power grids during the Kosovo campaign.
Since then, research has advanced so rapidly that US officials believe a single microwave device carried by an unmanned aircraft could hit 100 targets with 1,000 pulses of high-intensity energy on a single sortie.
Military analysts believe that microwave bombs could be particularly useful against Republican Guard and other defences around Baghdad. Known as directed-energy weapons, they destroy electronic systems but — in theory at least — do not harm people or damage buildings.
Among the Pentagon’s other concerns is that an aerial assault on a suspected biological or chemical stockpile might inadvertently release toxic substances into the air.
Earlier this year the US Naval Surface Warfare Center began working with Lockheed Martin Corp, a prominent US defence contractor, to produce a thermobaric warhead known as “agent defeat”.
The upgraded thermobaric or fuel-air system produces a high-temperature incendiary blast that creates a long period of intense heat at low pressure, preventing the dispersal of poisonous agents. The warhead also produces a disinfectant chlorine gas that further minimises the risk of contamination.
Perhaps the most useful new toy in the Pentagon’s Christmas sack is a threedimensional computer simulation of the streets of Baghdad, complete with all known Iraqi military locations and satellite positioning co-ordinates. The 3D imagery is being studied by military commanders as they plan possible scenarios for a ground assault on the city.
The combination of overwhelming firepower and technological expertise helps explain why so many Pentagon officials are convinced that the battle for Baghdad will prove a walkover. —TST