Preempting wheat smut attacks

By Gordon Prather

The warhawks apparently believe their own “intelligence” estimates that Saddam Hussein still has a dozen or two Scud ballistic missiles left over from the Gulf War. They expect Saddam – as a last resort – to whip-up a fresh batch of wheat smut, or other chem-bio warfare agents, load up his Scuds and launch them at our invasion force.

During the Iran-Iraq war, each side launched 300 to 400 Scuds at each other’s cities. Both sides had chem-bio warfare agents, and actually used chemical agents against each other on the battlefield. But none of the Scuds carried chem-bio warfare agents.

During the Gulf War, the Iraqis launched about a hundred Scuds against Israeli cities and against U.S. staging and support areas in Saudi Arabia. Despite having total air superiority, we were never able to detect – much less destroy – a single mobile Scud before it was launched, even though it takes a couple of hours to setup, fuel and launch the missile.

Therefore, we had to depend upon our Patriot air-defense batteries – the most capable terminal-missile-defense system the U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty allowed us to have – to try to intercept the Scuds.

We were able to detect within seconds – via sensors in our early-warning satellites – the launch of Iraqi Scuds. Within minutes, our North American Aerospace Defense Command was able to provide our Patriot batteries with trajectory analysis needed to intercept them in their terminal dives.

The Scud is a liquid-fueled single-stage ballistic missile. The warhead remains attached to the missile throughout flight. On re-entry, the entire missile frequently tumbles end-over-end, breaking up into several pieces. Hence, our Patriot batteries – even when they successfully intercepted an Iraqi Scud – frequently didn’t destroy the warhead. Fortunately, none of the Iraqi Scuds carried chem-bio warfare agents in the Gulf War, either.

After the Gulf War, we instituted – since the U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty didn’t prohibit it – a cooperative ABM program with the Israelis. The Arrow ABM system has just been declared “operational” by the Israelis. In the process of helping the Israelis, we also considerably enhanced our Patriot’s capabilities – especially the performance of the interceptor. However, our system – the PAC-3 – is not yet operational.

Apparently, the warhawks are deploying them to the Gulf, anyway. Each PAC-3 launcher is initially loaded with eight interceptors, with two usually being fired at the same target. We reportedly will have about 60 interceptors in our inventory by December. Of course, to be effective, the PAC-3 battery has to be positioned near the intended target. And, even if they manage to intercept all the Scuds, many intact warheads are going to land somewhere nearby.

Bu hold on. We and the Israelis also cooperatively developed a boost-phase ballistic-missile intercept capability. Our capability utilizes “stealthy” Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, much akin to those we used last year to great effect in Afghanistan: the low-flying Predator and the high-flying Global Hawk. There have been some recent reports that we may also deploy that UAV-based system in the Gulf.

A Scud is especially vulnerable in the boost phase, shortly after launch. It ascends rather slowly for about a minute, its intensely hot rocket exhaust making it a big fat target for infrared-homing missiles. Furthermore, when you destroy the missile during the boost phase, the warhead falls back on the enemy’s head, not yours.

The Predator – cued by the high-flying Global Hawk and by our space-based assets, and using much the same all-weather sensor package and satellite command-and-control system used in Afghanistan – would find, attack and destroy the Scud mobile launchers with short-range air-to-ground anti-armor missiles.

Of course, the best way to preempt Iraqi Scud attacks is for Hans Blix and his 200 U.N. inspectors to go to Iraq, search for Scuds that Saddam may have squirreled away, and destroy them. They could have – should have – been in Iraq by now, implementing UNSC Resolution 1284, accepted by the Iraqis months ago, which contains all the authority Blix wants or needs.

But UNSCR 1284 doesn’t contain all the authority the warhawks want. They want a UNSC resolution giving them the authority to automatically invade Iraq, depose Saddam and his regime, and occupy the “cradle of civilization” for the next hundred years or so in the event Hans Blix cannot quickly certify that Saddam could never whip up a fresh batch of wheat smut. But Blix could never certify that – no one could, unless, of course, Saddam has been strung up from a sour apple tree.