|The editor's introduction to Robert James Parsons Le Monde article
) refers to the
effects of "new" thermobaric bombs. These were reported after the article was written but Robert's comments still apply.
Military press releases that these "new" warheads were developed in a few weeks are highly improbable. The same claim was made for
the original bunker busters in 1991. Careful analysis of military and manufacturers' websites since 1997 indicates that most
new weapon systems have a development lead time of many months, usually 2-3 years. The Tactical Tomahawk penetrator version
upgrade was approved 1999 but officially is still not due to be operational until later this year. In practice it was almost certainly used in
the Afghan bombing, if only in pre-production prototype form.
I conclude that Military and manufacturers press releases are frequently and deliberately misleading about the operational dates of new
weapons by months or years, allowing combat testing at least a year before they are declared to be in production. (see pages 117-119
of DU weapons 2001-2002 at http://www.eoslifework.co.uk/du2012.htm ).
If DU is used in upgraded hard target warheads its powerful incendiary effects would be "thermobaric". The "new" BLU-118/B
Thermobaric bomb is reported to be an upgrade of the BLU-109 2000 lb bomb casing with new explosive. The BLU-109 is used in the
GBU-15, GBU-24 and GBU-31 guided bombs and the AGM-130C missile.
The upgraded BLU-109/B bomb (also known as AUP-116 advanced unitary penetrator) uses unspecified "heavy metals" in the warhead
to double its penetration effect. It has incendiary capabilities to neutralise chemical and biological targets. These combined features
are strong indications that the heavy metal upgrade is achieved by using Depleted Uranium. While incendiary effects are mentioned in
detail in the two Thermobaric bomb reports below* no mention is made of the incendiary effects of DU. However several other
suspected DU guided weapons are mentioned as well. Compare these with weapons in Part 3 of the DU report.
The guided versions (different codes represent different guidance system kits fitted onto the basic warhead) of the upgraded BLU-109/B
are mainly intended for underground targets - caves and command bunkers. They were first combat tested in the Balkans war
according to an arms dealer filmed in the French documentary "La Geurre Radioactive Secrete".
The DU component in the warhead casing would need to be at least 50% of the weight (i.e. 1000 lb) to double the density of the old
version, enabling its cross section area to be reduced by 50%. These thinner warheads have twice the penetration effect of old
versions for the same weight.
The fragmented DU casing would burn at very high temperature (estimated 2000 degrees) creating powerful heat / blast effects while
consuming all available oxygen in confined spaces - exactly the function of the thermobaric bomb. Recent news video of a thermobaric
impact showed a dense black cloud of smoke emerging from the cave - characteristic of the black DU oxide dust seen in news
videos the known DU anti-tank penetrators in the Gulf War.
It seems very likely that this kind of "new" bunker busting thermobaric bombs are not new at all - that they are simply a new
description for the effects of DU incendiary hard target warheads. However they may use a modified explosive designed to maximise
flame as well as blast effects with some form of hydrocarbon vapours to extend the range of the DU inferno into underground cave
Targets in Afghanistan hit by these "thermobaric" bombs should be tested at the first opportunity for suspected DU contamination and
should be avoided by troops or civilians without full NBC protective clothing. Perhaps staff from the manufacturers should be used to
inspect targets, rather than troops or Afghans.
Since latest targets are in mountain locations with winter snow cover any DU is likely to permanently contaminate surface and
underground water systems. All watersheds affected by the recent bombing may need long term DU pollution monitoring.
These "new" weapons should not be confused with Daisy Cutters (which use aluminium powder to create a fireball and blast above
ground level). They will require quite different warhead technology from the fuel-air thermobaric weapons designed by several countries
also for use above ground level if the same effects are desired under ground. The new advanced penetrators already use specially
insensitive explosives that survive initial impact until delayed action fuzes are ignited.
Similar "thermobaric" effects would be created by all suspected DU hard target warheads in guided bombs and cruise missiles, whether
exploding on the surface or underground. Their very high temperatures are likely to create greater fire damage in the immediate target
area than conventional explosives, to leave distinctive black dust in the immediate area and to cause more severe burns for casualties
than conventional blast-fragmentation warheads. These features may be important for troops, civilians and de-mining technicians to
identify suspected DU bomb or missile targets until alpha-radiation detection equipment is available.
For descriptions of the upgraded BLU-109 and other suspected DU hard target warheads see pages 77 and 84 of "DU weapons
2001-2002" available at http://www.eoslifework.co.uk/du2012.htm or go direct to the Smart weapons index of the FAS website
Two descriptions of these "new" weapons are available at:
(compare delivery dates for several hard target weapons systems with other reports in DU weapons 2001-2002)
US websites contain a lot of factual detail about weapon systems. Specific guidance systems, fuzes and explosives are identified in
detail. But the dense metals used in warheads are rarely identified. Press releases from the Pentagon and manufacturers may appear
detailed but are often not what they seem and inconsistent with other reports.
For the health and safety of troops and civilians I repeat my appeal that the mystery metals involved in all hard target guided weapons
are disclosed by the governments that have purchased them or the manufacturers that make them. The BLU-118/B should be added to
the list of 21 suspected DU weapon systems in Table 4, page 131 of my DU weapons report.
Until full and verifiable discosure is done troops, civilians and civilian employers (e.g. aid and media organisations) would be wise to
take DU precautions in any bombing target zones in Afghanistan until a truly independent and trusted source can conduct
environmental tests for DU contamination of air, water and soil..