By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent
The Pentagon is planning to use a British weapon that can disable electronic and electrical systems without killing anyone to attack Saddam Hussein's
chemical and biological weapons sites.
The "radio frequency weapon", or E-Bomb, developed at a secret site in south-west England, sends out a high-intensity radio wave with similar
effects to the electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear blast.
It is also able to penetrate the underground bunkers where Saddam's chemical and biological weapons are stored as protection from allied bombing. The
radio pulse will travel easily down the bunkers' power and ventilation ducts.
One of the biggest problems facing allied troops if they were sent into Iraq would be that, with any attack aimed at removing him from power, Saddam
knows he has nothing to lose in using his weapons of mass destruction.
Bombing the sites would only spread the chemical or biological agents, killing innocent Iraqi civilians and threatening invading forces.
By using the E-bomb to cripple the plants' refrigeration and computer systems, the allies would ensure that the weapons could not be used in any
Although the weapon is still in the final stages of development, American defence sources said they were interested in acquiring it for immediate
deployment in any attack on Iraqi chemical and biological weapons sites.
The E-Bomb can be made to have a limited range and be delivered by cruise missile, by smart bomb, or by one of the unmanned aerial vehicles which
proved their effectiveness during the campaign in Afghanistan, one British official said.
As it approaches its target, an array of aerials spring out and its capacitors discharge themselves, sending out a burst of high-powered microwave
energy to disable electrical and electronic systems.
The weapon was developed by the novel technology department of Matra BAe Dynamics. It gives credence to the nightmare scenario of a high-technology
war when the enemy could disable the radio, radar, and computer systems on which modern defences depend.
The weapon can also bring civil infrastructure to a standstill, closing national electricity grids, stopping telephone, radio and television
The discovery that Russia was close to producing the E-bomb sparked a race to build similar weapons and counter-measures to protect against them in
which Britain has become the world leader.
MI6 has told ministers that Iraq may still possess tons of chemical warfare agents, the necessary materials to produce thousands of litres of
biological agents and as many as 10 Scud missiles with which to deliver them.
Iraq has admitted that before the Gulf war it manufactured 100 botulinum bombs, 50 anthrax bombs, and seven aflatoxin bombs. Five missile warheads
were filled with anthrax, 16 with botulinum, and four with aflatoxin.
The Iraqi chemical warfare arsenal is known to include:
The nerve agents Sarin and VX. Colourless and tasteless, they cause death by respiratory arrest in one to 15 minutes.
Blister agents such as mustard gas. Severely incapacitating, they damage tissue, causing extensive large blisters.
Psychoactive agents such as Agent 15. Symptoms include dizziness, vomiting and hallucinations lasting for days. Biological warfare agents produced by
Anthrax. Symptoms initially resemble that of a common cold and are only identifiable in the fatal phase. Once this begins, vomiting, severe head and
joint pain, and respiratory distress will lead to death in one to three days.
Botulinum. Causes botulism. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhoea, paralysis of the throat and convulsions, followed by death due to respiratory
Aflotoxins. Poisons produced by fungi and mould, they have the capacity to cause liver cancer.
Ricin. Inhalation leads to weakness, fever and pulmonary oedema within 24 hours followed by death.
Clostridium perfringens. A bacterium which causes gangrene.