From the F-117A Stealth Fighter in Panama, to the Tomahawk cruise missile in Gulf War I, to the B-2 stealth bomber in Kosovo, to the Hellfire-armed Predator UAV in Afghanistan, every major U.S. military action in recent years has seen the debut of a major new weapons system that significantly altered the face of combat.
The anticipated war with Iraq will be no exception: Should we go to war against Saddam Hussein, we will see the first widespread use of high-power directed energy or microwave weapons. These weapons are insidiously effective because they produce a split-second electromagnetic spike of energy that is powerful enough to damage electronic components and scramble the memory of any computer system.
The cumulative destruction and confusion this new weapon will cause will be mind-boggling.
Microwave weaponry is currently designed for use from either a cruise missile or unmanned aerial vehicles. British researchers who have worked closely with American scientists describe a directed energy weapon in an unmanned combat vehicle as the ideal mode of delivery.
One British aerospace official, speaking anonymously, explained that utilizing a UAV poses no risk to a pilot, and the weapon has a greater degree of accuracy in contrast to conventional cluster bombs or other explosives that can cause significant collateral damage.
Modern strategic air attack theory is based upon what is known as Warden's Five Rings Model (WARDEN95,) after Air Force strategist Col. John A. Warden III, a primary architect of the 1991 Gulf War air campaign. This theory, and its accompanying priority target matrix, identifies five levels and classifications of targets that would be ultimately crippled or destroyed by directed energy weapons.
The priority level of targeting ascends from the lowest precedence category, fielded military forces. The second-highest category comprises the general population, and the third constitutes the Iraqi transportation and communications infrastructure. Fourth is the essential economic infrastructure of Iraq, with the national leadership and the Iraqi command-and-control network as the fifth, and highest-priority, target.
How would U.S. military commanders actually employ microwave weaponry against Iraq?
The top priority will be the neutralization of Iraqi command and leadership. This would be accomplished by the electronic destruction of key computer equipment in government or palace buildings, military command posts and upper-echelon headquarters. Other priority targets will include government television and radio broadcasting facilities, telephone switches, microwave and satellite communications, and key strategic command/control/communications (C3) posts and nodes.
The second tasking would be for the destruction of all automated machinery in the target zone, specifically including all processing controls that deal with banking and finance. The Iraqi finance industry constitutes a special case, as the destruction of the electronic infrastructure can yield rapid economic dislocation. This can in turn produce large systemic effects across the whole economy, including elements that are not vulnerable to direct electromagnetic attack.
(For nations that rely on agriculture, mining or trade for a large proportion of the their gross domestic product, their financial centers and stock markets are prime candidates for electromagnetic attack, since they are usually geographically concentrated and typically “soft” targets.)
Yet another spectrum of targets for directed-energy weapons can be found within the Iraqi transportation system. The destruction of road and rail signaling systems, motor vehicle electronic ignition systems (from mopeds to tanks to aircraft) could facilitate highway and rail traffic congestion, preventing the deployment of Iraqi military forces.
Next to last on the target list would be the general Iraqi population. Microwave weapons would not be used to cause civilian casualties, but instead to attack the morale and resolve of the citizenry. All radio and television receivers, all domestic or private computers, and all cellular telephones or cellular communications systems of any nature will seemingly go dead. The use of electromagnetic weapons against urban areas will ensure that the Baath party-line propaganda will not reach the population via means of Iraqi mass media.
Although fielded military forces come in last on Warden’s Five Rings matrix, it is at this level where the U.S. military will deliver the coup de grace against Saddam Hussein. Within Iraq’s residual front-line divisions, embedded computers, military support facilities and tactical battlefield C3 systems will all suddenly go dead.
Iraqi C3 sites and fixed support bases that carry out depot-level maintenance on military equipment, will also constitute valuable targets for directed-energy weapons. (The concentration of computers in both automatic test equipment and administrative and logistic support functions will offer a good return per electromagnetic salvo.)
The ability of current U.S. electromagnetic weapons to achieve hard electrical kills against any non-hardened targets within their lethal “footprints,” means that some target sites may require only electromagnetic attack and not any follow-on strikes with precision-guided munitions or ground troops.
In fact, Central Command planners likely have a goal to strike the maximm number of Iraqi targets in this fashion, relegating the use of conventional munitions on targets only in event of critical military necessity.
Electromagnetic weapons will provide a particularly high payoff should Saddam Hussein proceed with his alleged strategy of withdrawing his military forces back inside Baghdad using the Iraqi capital as an urban battlefield in a last stand against the U.S. military.
Microwave weaponry will enable U.S. commanders to “soften” and control that battlefield well prior to the introduction of ground forces. And should urban combat become inevitable, directed-energy weapons will greatly help to prevent excess casualties among the civilian population, since they are lethal to electronics only.
The military justification for using electromagnetic weapons technology is bolstered by the wide degree of flexibility in its lethal effect. This option would make electromagnetic weapons far more readily applicable to a strategic air attack campaign.
Microwave technology promises to enable U.S. commanders to render Iraq militarily, politically and economically ineffective with little, if any, loss in human life. It is a sure bet that this revolutionary technology – for which there is currently no defense – will define the conduct of Gulf War II.