May 12, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A new "passive" weapon without explosives was developed in only 98 days and used in Iraq to destroy some targets while limiting unintended collateral damage to people and structures in populated areas, an Air Force official said Thursday.
-107 Passive Attack Weapon, or PAW, was developed by the Air Armament Center at nearby Eglin Air Force Base
in the Florida Panhandle.
The weapon is a canister that's dropped from jets and opens in the air, flinging hundreds of "penetrators" - tungsten and steel rods, each weighing from an ounce to little more than a pound. Using the momentum the canister picked up from the aircraft, the penetrators strike at nearly 680 mph. The combination of weight and speed - known as kinetic energy - destroys the target.
"We have a large number of explosive weapons where we can provide vast destructive effects on a target, but sometimes that's not really what's desirable," said Col. James Knox, area attack systems program director for the Armament Center.
PAW was designed to knock out "soft" targets such as radar or communications antennas, power substations, fuel and other storage facilities. For example, it could be used to destroy an antenna atop a building without damaging the building itself, Knox said.
He has not yet received reports on what targets the weapon was used against or the results.
"I can tell you I did not get any negative feedback on it so I take that as a good sign," Knox said in a telephone interview from Tucson, Ariz., where he was visiting a missile factory.
The passive weapon is a sensible approach, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer for the Lexington Institute, a research group in Alexandria, Va.
"For about a generation now, the U.S. Air Force has been bound on becoming less and less destructive," Thompson said. "There's no reason to blow up a whole building with people inside to achieve a limited affect."
Thompson noted the Air Force also replaced explosives with cement in a satellite-guided bomb, the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM
, to reduce collateral damage when attacking certain targets in Iraq
. JDAM also was developed at Eglin.
Development and testing of the passive weapon began in September and finished with the delivery of the first 58 munitions. Production continued 82 more days and then ceased. The Air Force has not yet decided if it will resume in the future. Knox was unable to disclose how many more weapons were made.
The development program had a head start because the Air Force Research Laboratory, also at Eglin, had done preliminary testing of the concept. Time also was saved by matching the weight and balance of an existing cluster munition, eliminating the need for software modifications to aircraft and some testing.
Textron produced the weapon's body, General Dynamics made the penetrators and Lockheed Martin supplied its inertial navigation guidance system. It can be dropped by F-16, B-52 and F-15E warplanes.
The passive weapon and secrecy surrounding it are in sharp contrast to the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, a 21,000-pound bomb, also quickly developed and tested with much fanfare at Eglin just before the war began.
MOAB, nicknamed "Mother of All Bombs," never was used in Iraq, but Air Force officials said it was built at least in part for psychological warfare.