Hi-tech arms 'would finish war in a week'
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
15 December 2002
The American weaponry likely to be deployed in any military strike against Iraq is so advanced and hi-tech that some was not even ready to be used in the operation in Afghanistan just 12 months ago.
With an armoury including satellite imagery that can distinguish a tank from a bus, even through thick cloud, to microwave bombs that can destroy electrical and computer systems without hurting civilians, military planners preparing for war are confident that any strike would be completed in little more than a week.
"The first Gulf War was fought like the Second World War, with air dominance – pounding their defences, softening up the forces and then going in," said Daniel Gouré, a military analyst with the Washington-based Lexington Institute think tank. "This will be speedier, more precise – an effects-based operation. It will be much more surgical, both in the use of explosive force and in the overall operation."
While the present emphasis is on securing the evidence America would need to go to war – the UN wants a list of Iraqi scientists linked to arms programmes by the end of the month and is stepping up the pace of inspection, swooping on 11 sites yesterday – analysts agree that America's military dominance will ensure any assault on Iraq is brief.
Among the weapons Mr Gouré and others highlight are satellite-guided smart bombs known as Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). While a number of these were used in Afghanistan, many more are likely to be deployed in Iraq.
The smart bombs available have also been upgraded. The GBU-28 "bunker-busters" have been upgraded by the BLU-31. Designed to penetrate hardened underground facilities, these have also been equipped with a new device called the hard-target smart fuse, which allows the bomb to "count" how many floors it needs to penetrate before detonating. A new category of bomb is the thermobaric device – only one was used in Afghanistan, and missed its target – which can penetrate indoor or underground spaces and then set off a blast of heat and pressure strong enough to destroy biological agents such as anthrax or smallpox.
One weapon that is completely untested in battle is the microwave bomb, which British and US experts have been working on for several years. Exploding in mid-air, these bombs release pulses of magnetic energy that seek out electrical systems and computers and burn them out – even if they are buried underground. These can also be used to create a fizzing sensation on a person's skin – something US law enforcement agencies have been testing for crowd control.
Chris Hellman, a senior analyst with the Centre for Defence Studies, said: "If it's available and we get into a situation where we are looking at urban warfare, it will definitely be used. They may not be man-portable, but having them on the back of a truck would not be a problem."
Other new or updated weapons include an improved battle tank, the Abrams MI A2, the Apache Longbow helicopter and a high-altitude version of the unmanned Pred- ator drone, which can be used to carry satellite surveillance equipment or Hellfire missiles. Another is the Stryker, an armoured fighting vehicle offering great manoeuvrability. Planners believe it could be so important that – unlike the recent campaigns in Kosovo and Afghanistan – ground forces could play as important a role as bombers.
John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, another research group, believes the supremacy of US technology will mean any military operation will last little longer than a week.
"I think when this war is written up it will emerge as the re-emergence of the importance of land power," he said.