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#1032, 12 May 2003
Destruction of Weapons of Mass Destruction…
Ajay Lele
Defence Analyst

The United States was criticized by many when it invaded Iraq. It needs to be appreciated that the Americans went to war after meticulous military planning. On the military front, their preparation was almost foolproof taking care of probable contingencies. In hindsight it appears that the Americans overestimated the war fighting potential of Iraq. During the entire campaign, Iraq did not display any clear strategy to fight the war. The Iraqi Air Force failed to fly, there were no coordinated ground attacks on the Allied forces by Republican Guards, and the mechanized Army was absent.

Modern day wars normally showcase new weapon systems and in this war it was expected that the Americans might display new technologically superior weapon systems because of their main aim of ensuring minimum collateral damage. A lot was reported in the media about the technologies related to the E-bomb and the biggest conventional bomb called ‘mother of all bombs.’ Surprisingly, ‘Agent Defeat Weapons,’ the unique anti-WMD weapon technology, was the least debated. Destroying Chemical and Biological Weapons without dispersing their deadly contents is a difficult task. Using conventional explosives is not an option – their detonation generates a shockwave of rapidly spreading gases that would disperse the deadly agents far and wide. C4 explosive, for example, creates a velocity of detonation of about 8000 meters per second. The agents released can produce significant collateral causalities and destroy the local environment.

Agent Defeat Weapon or the Agent Defeat Warhead (ADW) is designed to disable a WMD storage or production site. The Agent Defeat Warhead Demonstration (ADWD) programme was initiated in 1999 by the American Air Force research laboratory with the objective to develop and demonstrate a warhead with a payload specifically tailored for use against fixed ground targets associated with the development, production and storage of chemical and biological weapons (CBW). The probable ground targets were considered to be hardened chemical targets, soft chemical targets, hardened biological targets, or soft biological targets. The effectiveness of the ADW was based on the warhead’s ability to simultaneously disrupt the functioning of the target, neutralize the CB material within the target and limit the potential for human casualties resulting from unintended release of CB agents.

Though much of this work is classified, the US would not have gone to war against Iraq without an ADW capability. Development of this capability must have been a very difficult task because there are several complexities attached to chemical/biological agents/weapons, which does not end with the design and manufacturing phase of the weapon. Target selection to deliver the payload is also a difficult and tricky task. Firstly, targeting these stocks is difficult because their manufacture is easily disguised in dual-use facilities such as pharmaceutical plants that are often located in populated areas. If the sites are actual weapon manufacturing sites, they are often buried deep underground and require penetrating warheads to overcome several feet of concrete. The concern about harming bystanders makes soft targets such as CB weapons being transported in tanker trucks difficult to attack. The most difficult targets could be mobile manufacturing units. Another problem in attacking the chemical/biological weapons target area is the often unique design of each facility.

One such ADW was being developed by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Maryland, along with Lockheed Martin, the USAF and others. First, it uses existing laser- or satellite-guided bombs such as the BLU-116 or BLU-109 to penetrate an underground bunker. It then adopts a slash-and-burn approach, firing out copper plates at high velocity to puncture the chemical and biological tanks and, finally, igniting a specially developed incendiary fill. This produces extreme temperatures and disinfecting chlorine gas. Another ADW is the HTI-J-1000, which burns titanium boron lithium perchlorate, producing both chlorine and fluorine. Some designs use incendiary chemical 'fills' that produce intense and long-lasting fires instead of exploding. Some designs also belch out a cocktail of bleaching chemicals to further reduce the threat of dispersal.

It is expected that some of the ADW research may be related to man-deployable rather than airdropped weapons. Special Forces soldiers on the ground could use such weapons.

From the American point of view all these preparations must have been wasted because they had neither intelligence inputs regarding the CB weapon sites during the war nor have they found any sites after the war. But they are probably still hopeful that they may need the ADW for Syria.

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