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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

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Moscow Announces Powerful New Bomb

September 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- It's being dubbed the "father of all bombs" and it is alleged to have a capacity four times more powerful than its U.S. equivalent.

Speaking on Russia's state ORT television channel on September 11, Colonel-General Aleksandr Rukshin, the deputy chief of Russia's armed forces, said the bomb had been successfully tested at a military site.

"The results of the trial of the newly created aviation bomb have shown that its effectiveness and potential are comparable to a nuclear bomb," Rukshin said. "At the same time I particularly want to emphasize that this bomb does not cause ecological or environmental pollution, in contrast to a nuclear bomb."

Television pictures showed the bomb dropping by parachute from a Tu-160 supersonic bomber and flattening what appeared to be a four-story block. The report said the bomb, technically known as a thermobaric device, contained seven tons of explosives.

Old Technology, But On Larger Scale

Pavel Felgenhauer, who writes a column on defense issues in the "Novaya gazeta" newspaper, explained how the so-far unnamed device works.

"It's a bomb filled with flammable liquid," Felgenhauer says. "The bomb drops, breaks up, the liquid is released, it swiftly evaporates, and then there is a delayed igniter that ignites the mixture of air and flammable liquid. There's a terrific shockwave after such an explosion and very high temperatures. The problem is, of course, that they are much heavier than nuclear weapons."

The extra weight, Felgenhauer says, makes them harder to transport than nuclear bombs. According to the report, the designers have used nanotechnology to increase the power of the bomb. But Felgenhauer says there is nothing new here.

"Such bombs, of course, have already been used for 40 years," he says. "They were first invented by the Americans and used in Vietnam, then used very much by the Russian military in Afghanistan. They were used in Chechnya. Basically, such bombs are used against troops in bunkers, because the exploding fuel-air mixture can also penetrate trenches and bunkers."

Military On Parade

The testing of the weapon comes at a time when Russia is attempting to reassert itself on the international stage. In recent months, President Vladimir Putin has revived the Soviet practice of sending heavy bombers out on long-range flights.

"I think that this is part of a sustained campaign just to remind people that Russia is a powerful military force, " says Robert Hewson, editor of "Jane's Air-Launched Weapons." "This is not a majorly significant military weapon, because it's a free-fall bomb that has to be dropped by bomber, so it's not going to be used in any advanced conflict. But it is clearly destructive and it's attention-getting, and that's what its most important purpose is."

Already strained relations between Russia and the United States soured further recently over Washington's plans to deploy parts of an antimissile system in Central Europe. Moscow is opposed to the U.S. plans, saying they are a threat to Russia's security. Washington says the shield is meant to defend against potential attacks from states such as Iran.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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