The U.S. Air Force has spent years developing so-called “Agent Defeat Weapons” designed to target and destroy stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons without dispersing or releasing them to surrounding areas, service officials said.
“The U.S. Air Force has Agent Defeat Weapons designed to limit collateral damage and effects,” Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy told Military.com. “The munitions are PAW (Passive Attack Weapon) and Crash Pad.”
Both of these weapons would be carried by aircraft such as the F-15 or F-22 fighter jets and B-2 or B-1 bombers. It's likely the Air Force would deploy the weapons from a B-2 or F-22 to take advantage of their radar-evading stealth technology considering the advanced air defense systems in Syria.
Could these weapons be used if a strike on Syria is ordered? Air Force officials would not comment upon whether the Agent Defeat Weapons were part of the discussion or strategic calculus regarding Syria.
An official with the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, did not offer any specifics regarding planning details or ongoing considerations – but did tell Military.com that planning sessions, meetings and considerations were currently underway.
"The Joint Staff continues to meet and plan in order to provide the best possible military advice and options to the President. It would be inappropriate to speculate on what decision the President might make and what military options might be used in support of that decision. The U.S. military remains postured to provide a range of military capabilities as directed by the President," said Cmdr. Scott McIlnay, spokesman with Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon.
The CrashPad, or BLU-119/B weapon is a high-heat explosive bomb designed to incinerate chemical agents before they can be harmful, according to defense officials and DoD documents.
The weapon is a 420-pound, high-heat incendiary weapon with what’s called a “blast-fragmentation” warhead. The Crash Pad is built from an existing standard MK 84 bomb body. The “PAD” in CrashPad stands for “Prompt Agent Defeat,” referring to the weapon’s ability to destroy chemical and biological agents without causing contamination, official documents describe.
The Passive Attack Weapon, or PAW, involves firing a host of steel and tungsten penetrator rods to create a “kinetic energy” battlefield effect without using an explosive. The weapon, first used to knock out antennas in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, is among the weapons used to advance what strategists call “effects based warfare.”
The idea with effects-based warfare is to achieve a strategically valuable battlefield “effect” without necessarily having to damage or attack large portions of the infrastructure of the attacked country or area. The PAW penetrator rods, which range from several inches to more than one-foot, can disable an enemy fuel tank, antenna or helicopter without necessarily damaging people.
One analyst said if the PAW were to be fired from a high enough altitude and was able to travel with enough terminal velocity – it could destroy chemical weapons stockpiles without releasing contaminants.
“When you hit something at high velocity, what you get is a flash of incredible heat in a confined area extremely fast. That can vaporize everything in small area,” said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank.
Goure likened the effect to the impact of so-called “Sabo” Kinetic Energy 120mm tank rounds fired by the U.S. Army’s M1Abrams tank.
“A Sabo round is essentially the same thing, a combination of spalling and heat effects. The round melts its way into the tank,” he said.
Being able to generate enough heat sufficient to incinerate or neutralize the harmful agents is an essential ingredient to the success of Agent Defeat Weapons, according to military officials and scientists.
“Most agent defeat options—including nuclear weapons and high-explosives—neutralize chemical or biological agents by raising the target's temperature. Thus, to assess any weapon's effectiveness, we must first determine the threshold temperature for rapid agent neutralization,” Brookings Institution Scientist Michael A. Levi said in written testimony to the National Academy of Sciences, 2004.