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The Associated Press February 13, 2003

Pentagon could debut new weapons in Iraq

By JIM KRANE, AP Technology Writer

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 the Bush 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, a 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 yards, 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, designed to blind opponents or disable weapons' firing optics, 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 never 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, which has been developing lasers for roles that include missile defense and airborne ground attacks, believes it "can now use this on a fitting and legal manner on the battlefield."

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, Fla.

One bomber toting 30 of the weapons can puncture and blow up vehicles across 30 acres, 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 200 miles, Butler said. The satellite-guided JASSM uses an infrared seeker to recognize targets stored in its memory. The missile is being readied for Iraq although the Air Force has yet to complete testing, Butler and others said.

Compared to the broad capabilities hatched in Afghanistan, technology watchers aren't likely to be dazzled in an Iraq war, said John Pike, a military analyst with GlobalSecurity.org.

In Afghanistan, U.S. forces used high-speed communications links between soldiers, commanders and weapons to find and strike targets with unprecedented speed and accuracy.

The same arsenal of networked weapons and aircraft - from satellite-guided bombs to the now-ubiquitous unmanned aerial vehicle - are widely expected to show up in Iraq.

Ten new UAVs, each slightly larger than a buzzard, are in the kit of the 1st 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 the tiny craft.

The Marines have also developed a remote-controlled robot, called Dragon Runner, less than half the size of the 42-pound PackBot that U.S. troops used to search Afghan caves, military officials said.

Camera-equipped Dragon Runner prototypes could scout buildings and streets - possibly even carry small bombs - 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.

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GRAPHIC: AP Photos MDW101-103; AP Graphic ELECTROMAGNETIC BOMB


Copyright 2003, The Associated Press