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Derek Rasmussen — September 1984

Technological innovation in areas such as microelectonics and artificial intelligence has revolutionized the arms industry. In the words of one US General, “War is getting very lethal.” In this special report, an Ottawa researcher explores the frightening implications of these “not-sa-conventional” weapons, and explains why they are no cure for the nuclear arms race.

“It isn’t God, but it’s pretty close to it.”
Canadian Major Duffy McCallum on the new $20 million high-tech test range at Cold Lake, Alberta

Hyped as the answer to the West’s nuclear “dependence,” new high-tech “conventional” weapons are beginning to roll off assembly lines and into US and NATO arsenals. With the destructive potential of three to four kiloton nuclear bombs, these so-called “conventional” weapons increase both the likelihood of nuclear war and of American interventions in the Third World. Worst of all, some members of the disarmament movement are embracing these new weapons as a “lesser evil” and as a cure for the nuclear arms race.

More weapons systems than weapons, these new “smart” devices are armed with dozens and often hundreds of high explosive mini-warheads connected to complex arrays of. sensors, communication links, targeting and delivery systems, and computerized “brains.”

While these new weapons are based on existing Western advances in microelectronics and computers, the United States is banking on future advances in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, large space structures and other areas to give it the lead in “ET” systems. (“ET” is the acronym coined by cynical minds in the Pentagon for “emerging technologies;” people-killing devices which will not be available until the 199Os.)

All-weather capable

“Smart” weapons became popular in the 1970s, first drawing attention in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when Egyptian soldiers carrying portable wire-guided missiles destroyed many Israeli tanks. (Smart weapons had been used previously in the Vietnam war with little notice, with the exception of the infamous “McNamara Wall,” a fence of bombs, computers and sensors between North and South Vietnam, which killed as many or more refugees and civilians than it did guerrillas.)

These early smart weapons and their closest offspring, Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs), led to the motto “if you can see the target, you can kill it.”

Although techological advances were made in their production, such as the move from wire-guided to TV- and laser-guided bombs, all were susceptible to bad weather. What the new high-tech weapons will offer is a third generation of PGMs whose sensors use microwaves, millimetre waves and other forms of radiation to make them all-weather capable. With these new “fire and forget” weapons, the motto becomes “even if you can’t see the target, you can kill it.”

The real turning point for smart weapons was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon where the Israelis used small pilotless aircraft called Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs). Equipped with TV cameras and sensors, the RPVs were used to get instant pictures of battlefields, or even of particular intersections in the city of Beirut, and then guided PGMs straight to their targets.

Stocks in electronic warfare companies shot up and their executives were ecstatic. “Star Wars of the future is what it’s all about,” said Bernard Schwartz, chairman and CEO of Loral (one of the US high-tech firms which supplied Israel). “The lessons of Lebanon will dominate military thinking for the next ten years.”

The soon-to-be-available hightech “conventional” weapons will be even more “impressive.” In the new US Apache AH64 attack helicopter, movements in the pilot’s cornea (while he watches a target) are measured by a laser and used to guide missiles to the target. The Apache will carry 16 laser-guided Hellfire missiles, 76 rockets, or 1,200 rounds for its 30mm cannon, and it will be the first helicopter with night vision and all-weather capability. The cost? $74 billion for 572 helicopters. And much of the advanced electronics and instrumentation inside the Apache will be made by Canadian Marconi Company of Montreal.

New generation

The long list of high-tech “conventional” weapons systems is mind-boggling, with names like W AAM, BOSS, and “Incredible Hulk.” Here are a few highlights:

Assault Breaker. One of the Reagan Administration’s three top-priority armaments, along with the MX missile and the B-1 bomber, Assault Breaker belongs to the “standoff” group of weapons, weapons with longer ranges and greater destructiveness than PGMs. It will be loaded with “smart” submunitions (small, highly explosive charges) and advanced guidance systems and sensors, and will seek targets deep in enemy territory after being fired from a safe distance (100-200 km).

Fuel.Air Explosives (F AEs). FAEs dispense a cloud of highly volatile fuel which, when ignited, can produce atmospheric overpressures similar to those developed by nuclear weapons. Even a near-miss can sink an aircraft carrier or level entire city blocks. An advanced version, F AE2, is now being developed by the Pentagon.

Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). A MLRS can fire its 12 rockets in less than one minute, scattering 8,000 submunitions (each with the power of a hand grenade) over an area as big as six football fields. MLRS rockets loaded with “Skeet” sub munitions have been favourably compared with low-yield nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon’s head of NATO affairs, Frank Cevasco, described the MLRS this way:

(Each MLRS. rocket could have) 6. terminally guided missiles, four inches in diameter, two feet long. The things fly out over a pattern — they hunt, they scan, they do basic signal processing decision-making: “is this a real target?” They run a series of computational checks. If a determination is made that it’s a target or a probable target, then they go down and kill it. From the top, where it’s softer.

We don’t steer it. We don’t look through an eyepiece. We put it out there and it finds the target itself; if we’re smart enough to know to point it, then it takes over, you lose control.

Interestingly enough, Cevasco’s enthusiastic description of the MLRS was made at a high-tech conference and trade show in Ottawa this May, where Cevasco said that the US wants Canada to help produce the new “smart” weaponry.

The conference, the second in two years, was organized by the Canadian Advanced Technology Association (CATA), representing over 150 Canadian firms, and the National Security Industrial Association (NSIA), whose membership list – Boeing, Control Data, IBM, Lockheed, Litton, United Technologies, etc. – reads like a Who’s Who of top American war contractors. The US government has shown a lot of interest in these conferences – more than its Canadian counterpart sending up planeloads of top Pentagon officials and scientists.

The parade of top brass has included the two most prominent proponents of the new weaponry: Dr. Richard DeLauer, head of Research and Engineering for the Defense Department, and James P Wade, Jr., his principal deputy. Canada, they say, is a “stable,” secure neighbour which can be trusted with secret military R&D, the only country whose war industry is considered to be part of the US military-industrial base. “Our nations have,” as James Wade noted, “for all practical purposes, joined together in a North American defense industry base. “

This apparently unprecedented attention to a specific area 01 Canadian industry can be explained by a glance at the Pentagon’s budget: 50 cents of every dollar goes for electronics in weapons and communications.

The US wants NATO – and Canada in particular – to share the cost of researching, developing and producing the “guts” of the new ET and high-tech weapons.

Many Canadian companies are already involved in work on the new high-tech weapons. Garret Microcircuits (Rexdale, Ontario), for example, is making electronics for the AMRAAM advanced airto-air missile and for the “Wasp” mini-missile. Croven Crystals (Whitby) is supplying crystals for the Phalanx air-defense gun which automatically tracks and destroys enemy missiles using uranium core bullets. And Computing Devices of Ottawa is supplying the targeting computer for the US Army’s new main battle tank, the AbramsXM-l.

Of the Pentagon’s “Big Seventeen” list of ETs, Canadian companies or government departments have interest or expertise in 14, including optoelectronics, ‘space’ nuclear power, large space structures (Canada is being touted as the “space repairman of the future”), short wavelength lasers, machine intelligence, microprocessor-based learning aids, space-based radar (Canada’s Radarsat satellite is to be 25% funded by the US), high power microwave generators, and very high speed integrated circuits.

Canadian companies repeatedly point out that none of this equipment actually kills people. It’s just communications equipment, sensors, satellites or computers – all lumped together under the military term C3I, or Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. As Pentagon officials point out, ‘fists’ are useless without ‘eyes’ and ‘brains.’ Moreover, the Reagan Administration has recently given C3I equal priority with armaments, with the most important C3I system being the NAVSTAR satellite Global Positioning System (GPS), to be completed in 1987.

Grenada notwithstanding, polls show that the American public is still “suffering” from an unwillingness to support long, drawn-out high casualty US wars in Third World countries. Thus, the shift from labour-intensive battles to capital-intensive high-tech weapons for fighting quick, brutal wars.

Second, the new smart weapons systems promise a way out of the dilemma of “horizontal arms proliferation.” Lt.-Col. William T. McLarty, head of Combat Vehicle Technology for the US Army, puts the problem this way: “Third World countries are increasingly acquiring substantial combat power. Within arm’s reach, however,” he adds, “are solutions (which) involve the application of technological innovations that were, until recently, more the purview of science fiction writers than military planners.’ These solutions are the new smart weapons systems.

Third, and finally, the smart weaponry responds to the problem posed by the nuclear disarmament movement and the Euromissile controversy; the possibility of restrictions on the use of the nuclear weapons which have been used to keep the USSR at bay and as a back-up to American interventionist forces. In response to the peace movement’s concern that Europe could become a nuclear battleground, new weapons enthusiasts say that the ET and hightech weapons will raise the nuclear threshhold in Europe and lessen the chances of all-out nuclear war.

Nuclear risk

This claim has persuaded many influential voices in the “peace” and nuclear freeze movements, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the US Democratic Party, to support the new weaponry. As well, Robert McNamara, late of “McNamara’s Wall” fame (but now a dove), praises the new weaponry because it will do with conventional weapons what previously had required nuclear munitions.”

The new high-tech weapons, however, will increase, not reduce, the chances of nuclear war, and the assertion that they will raise the nuclear threshhold in Europe is wrong on a number of counts:

  1. Many of the new weapons will use delivery vehicles common to nuclear weapons (e.g. cruise, Trident, Lance and Pershing II missiles). Soviet forces are unlikely to hold back their nukes while waiting to see if missiles fired at them have conventional or nuclear warheads.
  2. The deadliness, or killing power, or the new high-tech weapons verges on 3-4 kilotons, thus blurring the distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons, and lowering inhibitions on the use of nukes.
  3. The temptation to add nuclear warheads to the high-tech weapons has already proven too great to resist. Proponents of the new systems were shocked to learn last November that Lawrence Livermore Labs had already tested a nuclear warhead for the Assault, Breaker.
  4. Finally, new military doctrines (Air Land Battle, Strike Deep and the Rogers Plan) which accompany these new conventional weapons all insist that they can be used successfully only in combination with nuclear weapons.

The issue of the European nuclear threshhold aside, however, the new high-tech conventional weapons are not really intended for use in the European theatre at all. Certainly it’s hoped that with a few of them in Europe some steam might be knocked out of the peace movement, but their real usefulness if elsewhere.

As Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Nathan B. Twining, said in reference to battlefield nukes (another weapon which was claimed as necessary for the European theatre but used elsewhere), “If employed once or twice on the right targets… (tactical nuclear weapons) would stop current aggression and stop future subversion… Congos, Cubas, Vietnams and the like.”

Pentagon planners have the same purpose in mind for the new high-tech… conventional..w.eapons and their chemical and nuclear “reinforcements.” The official adoption of the Air Land Battle doctrine was preceded in 1981 by the Air Land Battle and Corps 86 Study conceived for Europe, the Middle East and Korea. However, the wider geographical focus was hushed up before the doctrine reached its final form.

The Air Land Battle 2000, an official Army concept but not yet doctrine, assumes a high-tech, virtually automated battlefield by the year 2000. It calls for NATO to look “southeastwards,” where dependence on Middle East oil is called a threat to Central Europe of “equal importance” to the threat of Warsaw Pact attack.

Finally, a Pentagon study called Air Force 2000, which was leaked to the Reuters press wire service, warns that “the US is much more apt to be drawn into wars involving Third World nations than into a war in Europe, where combat with Soviet forces is not likely in this century.” The most likely battleground, the report says, is “the area plus or minus 30 degrees from the equator. For exampie,… war in the Middle East is virtually inevitable.”

Obviously, as these reports and doctrines indicate, the US sees new high-tech conventional weapons as a means of policing its empire without giving rise to domestic resistance; so justifying these weapons as a non-nuclear defense against the Warsaw Pact is a red herring.

And given the terrible destructiveness of the new weapons and the nuclear tripwire they represent, any claims that they are the “lesser evil” or are any more humane should be exposed for the lies they are.

Non-nuclear war is changing beyond all recognition. It is hardly “conventional” any more.

Derek Rasmussen is a researcher for the Ottawa Microtechnology Group and is writing a book on the Ottawa high-tech industry.

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