Military reviewing first combat use of high-tech weapons
By Kris Osborn
(CNN) -- The U.S. military is reviewing the performance of new high-tech weaponry that made its combat debut during Operation Iraqi Freedom. One focus is on what's called effects-based warfare, which describes a strategy of paralyzing or disabling an enemy without necessarily destroying his infrastructure or causing extensive collateral damage.
Among the new additions to the arsenal is the CBU 107, or Passive Attack Weapon. The PAW uses kinetic energy to release 3,700 "penetrator rods" -- projectiles used to disable an important enemy target.
As for its use during the war, Air Force officials would only say that the PAW was first dropped at night from an F-16 fighter plane.
"The CBU 107 was specifically designed to create a battlefield effect with a minimum of collateral damage," says Col. James Knox, program director for the Area Attack Systems Program Office at Eglin AFB.
Knox believes the weapon is extremely valuable in modern warfare. "If there is a radar antenna on top of a building, the weapon will penetrate the antenna and disable it without destroying the building. Also, the weapon is ideal if you want to prevent the enemy from using something stored inside a warehouse without destroying the warehouse itself, such as a helicopter. For example, if you had a fuel container or weapon stored inside a warehouse, you would want to disable it without causing a fire or explosion."
The penetrator rods range from the size of a nail to projectiles longer than 14 inches weighing a pound and a half, according to U.S. Air Force officials. The steel and tungsten penetrators create a virtual hurricane effect of metal, shooting out of a tactical munitions dispenser (which looks like a water heater) at a speed of 600 mph. Air Force officials say the PAW can be used by an F-16, B-52 or F-15E.
Col. Knox explained the weapon is quite effective in disabling a target without causing excessive collateral damage. He said the projectiles "are not explosives, they create their effect by hitting something, kind of like darts. For example, it is like a baseball coming thought your window."
Air Force officials say other possible targets for the PAW are what are described as soft targets, things you might want disable without causing an explosion, such as fuel storage tanks, or power substations.
Air Force officials say the PAW was developed very quickly. Capitalizing on ongoing work in the Air Force research laboratory, a team at Eglin AFB developed the weapon in 100 days. Knox said "we call it a quick reaction program to go quickly from concept to deployment. We were told to make the weapon in September of 2002, and it was ready to deploy in March of 2003. "
Col Knox said "the pilot gives the weapon its target co-ordinates, then drops it from anywhere up to 40-thousand feet, from well above air defenses."
The tactical munitions dispenser opens up in mid-air through a very small explosion, then the projectiles are released with precision guidance capability. A U.S. Air Force official says: "The weapon steers itself, following the target coordinates given to it by the pilot. It has an inertial navigation system in it, guiding it to a point above the target."
Then, at a specified point above the ground, the weapon spins, the dispenser's doors open up, and the projectiles are released.
Before being deployed in Iraq, the kinetic-energy penetrator rods were tested against a warehouse and a helicopter. They successfully hit their targets.
Knox said the PAW represents a symbolic development in the strategic use of air power, saying "it is a step toward bringing very specific effects to the battlefield which focus on denying the enemy use of specific targets while minimizing collateral damage."