Ramon Lopez/EGLIN AFB

The US Air Force (USAF) is to test air-delivered flechettes for use in puncturing storage containers holding chemical or biological warfare (CBW) agents.

The classified programme, which was started quietly in August, takes a new direction in developing "agent defeat" weapons that can knock out hardened, soft and mobile chemical and biological weapon targets.

Each target-type holds special problems, complicating the development of "anti-CBW" devices. Above-ground, mobile targets may be easy to hit, but an attack with conventional munitions would spread the toxins. By contrast, hardened, buried CBW-production and storage facilities require "bunker-buster" weapons able to bore into the ground. A USAF official says each underground bunker would react differently to attack. "There are few 'agent defeat' target types, but each is different. It seems that we cannot make a bomb for all seasons," says one official.

CBWs are believed to be most vulnerable to attack during shipment and a Soft Target Ordnance Package (STOP) munition could neutralise such weapons with minimal collateral damage.

Such attacks would occur while the CBW agents are in above ground storage, on rail-wagons or aboard trucks. "The material would be rendered useless or very difficult to further distribute," says the official.

The Air Force Research Laboratory's munitions directorate considers that an undetermined number of flechettes would be carried in a Tactical Munitions Dispenser (TMD). A Lockheed Martin Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) tail kit would be mated to the TMD to guide the weapon. The flechettes must be able to penetrate building materials, steel drums and hardened containers.

After the USAF conducted in-house studies and component testing, a competition led to an award of $2.5 million to Primex Technologies to design and develop the kinetic energy STOP munition.

Source: Flight International