Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Firing Fire in Afghanistan

I had a query from a British reporter about a man-portable U.S. weapon system, the M202A1 FLASH – the acronym stands for Flame Assisted Shoulder weapon. It was used in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, although at first the Pentagon denied it had used napalm during the fighting. (Technically, the Pentagon was correct: it did not use napalm, which was the question that was asked. But not until August did it concede the reply was misleading, for the napalm that used to be an ingredient of the weapon had been replaced by a “more efficient” – i.e., more lethal – ingredient. Look at the result in either case and you had the same effect: deep, often fatal burns.)

The reporter wanted some comment on the use of the weapon. As far as I know, the M202A1, like other flame weapons, does not per se contravene Protocol III of the Convention Against Certain Conventional Weapons
(Incendiary Weapons) dated October 10, 1980. The problem with the Protocol is that the legality of the use depends on the intention of the user – as long as the weapon is claimed to be directed toward military objectives, it remains a permissible weapon of war.

To change the status quo, which I find abhorrent, the Protocol needs to be revised to outlaw the manufacture, storage, sale, any other transfer, or employment in battle of all forms of incendiary weapons. The basis for banning the M202A1 and other similar weapons should not be the intent of the side using the weapon but the same criteria that U.S. field commanders now use in their weapons selection: what is the effect on the target? Commanders are less interested in what weapon is used than what the results on the ground will be. Under this criterion, the M202A1 would be banned because like other "flame" weapons such as napalm and white phosphorous, the suffering inflicted on either military or civilian personnel is unnecessarily excessive.

It is no accident that in both literature and history, the descriptions of death from flames are always the most gruesome. They are undoubtedly the most painful and agonizing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Napalm was never employed in the M202A1 FLASH weapon. The weapon employed the M74 warhead which contained approximately 1.34 pounds of the pyrophoric agent triethyl aluminum. The warhead bursts on impact and spontaneously combusts when the pyrophoric agent is exposed to the atmosphere.

The weapon is rarely used, virtually never trained with and far more deadly to the poor bastard that is dumb enough to be conned into firing it. It enjoys a rather high rate of failure and has a tendency to incinerate its operator and anyone else within twenty meters when it does fail.

Thus, this the reason no one in the military who knows anything about it dares train with the thing. All other weapons systems are far more safe, effective and deadly in any case.

My guess is that the reason they were used Iraq was so that the logistics pogues could see if they still worked. They have been sitting in warehouses for decades and have not been manufactured for at least two decades. I would not have taken on that guinea pig job with a gun to my head.

6:27 PM  

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