http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/01/03/1041566227384.html Sydney Morning Herald January 4, 2003 Battle of the boffins Weapons manufacturers have an array of frightening new high-tech devices ready to play a part in any attack on Iraq. Paul McGeough reports. If the fighting starts in Iraq, Saddam Hussein and his forces will be instant guinea pigs for a new generation of US weapons which may be used for the first time in all-out war. The keyword will be "remote". This is not to gloss over the risks facing tens of thousands of US and allied troops who will be on the ground, but such is the excitement at the new gee-whizzery in the armoury that Washington is shipping , or hopes to ship, to the Gulf, that observers could almost believe that the men in white coats had devised the ultimate video game - a war without troops. The design and deployment audacity of what the US likes to call its "robo-assassin" hardware was displayed in Yemen early in November when the CIA used a remote-controlled, pilotless Predator drone to launch a Hellfire missile from 7500 metres above the desert. It obliterated a vehicle travelling on a desert road and killed six al-Qaeda suspects inside. In the years since the last Gulf War it has emerged that America's so-called smart bombs were not as precise or as plenty as the world had been led to believe. This time the US and its weaponry have to be smarter - if Washington wants world acceptance of its role in Iraq during and after a war, it cannot afford to trash the country and its civilian infrastructure as it did last time. Which is where a new suite of US weapons will come into their own. These are high-powered microwave devices, "directed energy" weapons that the US hopes can be used to render a fleet of army vehicles useless by destroying their ignition or fuel systems. They will also cause disorientating pain - but apparently no lasting damage - by playing with nerve-ends in the enemy's skin. A military affairs analyst, William M. Arkin, elaborates: "Microwave weapons work by producing an intense surge of energy, like a lightning bolt, that short-circuits electrical connections, interferes with computer motherboards, destroys memory chips and damages other electrical components. They send a narrow beam of energy that penetrates about th of an inch into [human] skin, to where nerves that cause pain are located." Describing the panic-causing intensity of the pain inflicted by the high-powered microwaves, he quoted a military officer who had experienced it: "All the glossy slide presentations cannot prepare you for what to expect when you step in the beam." The weapon is at an advanced stage. In the much-vaunted surgical precision of the 1991 conflict, only 7 per cent of the munitions used were "smart". That proportion jumped to 30 per cent in Kosovo in 1999 and to 60 per cent in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is punting on 100 per cent smartness in the coming conflict. The improving targeting accuracy comes from a new device called a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a tail assembly fitted to "dumb" bombs so that they always know where they are and where they are going - either by data relayed from the aircraft that will drop them or being sent by satellite once they have been launched. The JDAM costs a mere $US27,000 ($48,000), compared with the $US1 million-plus cost of a cruise missile. The JDAM engineers promised the Pentagon that 50 per cent of the weapons fired would hit within 13 metres of their targets. But an Air Force general who had a hand in the Afghanistan war, bragged to Time magazine that they fell within three metres of their target 100 per cent of the time. But there is more upside to the JDAMs. In Afghanistan, the Taliban air force and anti-aircraft defences were never a serious threat. In Iraq it's a different story, but the JDAMs promise to keep US pilots out of harm's way - pilots had to fly at 4500 metres to drop the old laser-guided bombs, but the JDAMs can be launched from more than 10,000 metres up and while the aircraft is a good 25 kilometres from the target. They take as little as 10 minutes to launch compared with up to an hour for a cruise missile, and instead of being dropped in ones and twos, as was the case in 1991, these bombs can be dropped in dozen or two dozen lots. Such are the precision and flexibility of US firepower that there are confident predictions from within the Pentagon that less than half of the 500,000 troops who were deployed to the Gulf in 1991 will be needed in 2003 - but that still leaves up to 250,000 allied troops on the ground in what could be a bloody and brutal war zone. Each day six US intelligence satellites over Iraq hoover up imagery and data which flood into the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, near Washington. There, mapmakers have been refining what is called the Digital Point Positioning Database with the co-ordinates of every possible target for the coming war. One of the few brakes on American enthusiasm as the Iraq conflict looms is a desperate shortage of satellites. Masses of mapping data is being funnelled through space for the targeting database and for the creation of three-dimensional street-by-street maps of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. As US troops go in, their commanders will be able to watch their every move on instant video links that will be overlaid on the maps. This technology is so sophisticated that during the Afghanistan war, the President and Commander-in-Chief, George Bush, had a live feed in the Oval Office. It is this flood of electronic information that is clogging satellite capacity. That capacity is needed to control the pilot-less Predators and their weapons as they link up with commanders who might be thousands of kilometres away, manned aircraft that might be in the same skies and special operations troops who might be on the ground in the target area. The Predator drones also make brilliant - if terrifying - surveillance platforms. During the battle of Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank early last year, stricken Israeli army chiefs watched from their command bunker while a drone-borne camera gave them live footage as it hovered over a tiny courtyard in which an elaborate Palestinian booby-trap claimed the lives of 14 Israeli soldiers. But it was in Afghanistan that the US had the first opportunity to test the drones to their limit. Air Force Captain Eilssa Beddow told The Wall Street Journal how, operating from hundreds of kilometres away in neighbouring Pakistan, she used a control stick, a computer keyboard and several television monitors to direct an unmanned 8.2 metre-long spy-plane up and down a road on which Taliban fighters had been sighted. After 30 minutes she found them. Using the same satellite links that ran the drone and relayed its video imagery, she called in a manned Navy fighter jet and directed it to a hut near where the men of al-Qaeda were milling around their parked 4WD. She told the Journal of her thoughts as she watched them die: "You almost wanted to scream, 'run, get out of the way! You're going to be killed'." When the US was developing the drone technology in the early 1990s, it predicted that it would be able to call upon close to 1000 privately operated satellites. It didn't happen and in Afghanistan it could keep only three of the eight drones it had in the area in the air at any one time because of the paucity of satellite capacity. That Beddow was able to call in the attack aircraft was the refinement early in the Afghanistan war that made the Predator and Global Hawk drones more than simple surveillance platforms. But the price was using up scarce satellite capacity. Now the Air Force Research Lab has teams hard at work in an attempt to defeat the satellite shortage by developing a new laser-based system of communication which would increase the throughput of the satellites. And the Pentagon is experimenting to further refine the application of the drone technology - by dropping small seismic sensors from the air that have the ability to detect vibrations from tanks and other heavy vehicles and beam signals to those controlling the drones. They will be able to manoeuvre the drones into the area to investigate enemy movement and take snapshots of targets that can then be relayed to bomber pilots to save time and errors caused by verbal descriptions of targets at the height of battle. Arkin, the military affairs analyst, recently lifted the veil of secrecy on the newest so-called "agent defeat" weapons in the US, revealing the development of a new cluster bomb that would release 4000 titanium rods to cut through chemical and biological bunkers with explosive force, and a new incendiary device which he said would create a firestorm so intense that water would not extinguish it. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, he said that the new weapons would help the US to seize or neutralise Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with greater speed and security and, at the same time, cause less damage to surrounding areas and people. But he cautioned: "There are risks, however, because some of the new weapons could arguably be construed as violating established codes of wartime conduct. And the risk of a backlash, whether at home or abroad, are magnified by the Administration's almost total refusal to talk about what it is doing and thereby build public understanding and support. "Unfortunately one side effect of framing the war on terrorism in terms of weapons of mass destruction is that it instils in government officials a sense of moral certainty so great that they feel no need to explain or to justify themselves." In 1991, the US and its allies mounted a 38-day air assault on Iraq before putting troops on the ground, but such is its confidence in the marriage of means and objective this time, the Pentagon believes it will have foot soldiers in Iraq within days of the commencement of bombing. The emerging technology is well suited to the US objective in Iraq - an assault on one man, his cronies and the machinery of his military and security apparatus. As one military planner put it to The Washington Post: "[We want to] very quickly decapitate the regime."