Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Testing New Weapons -- DIME in Gaza

FCNL has received a number of queries about the use by Israeli Defense Forces of what appears to be a new, perhaps experimental weapon with the acronym DIME, which stands for Dense Inert Metal Explosive. Medical personnel working in Gaza reported seeing wounds that were consistent with on-line descriptions of DIME munitions. Two years ago, in Iraq, there were reports of unusual fatalities among Iraqis who got too close to American checkpoints. But what caused death in those events were burns, suggesting some form of high-powered lasers whose intensity was set too high.

It must be said that this is not the first time the Israelis have been cited by medical staff (this time doctors from Norway) for, in effect, “testing” newly developed weapons during periods of intense combat to see if they work under battlefield conditions. Such use once or twice is all that is necessary; after that, the weapon can go into “black storage” and the world will forget about it – until it is used again. But now a little narrative “history” as I think the evolution of DIME might have occurred. Sources are Aviation Week and Space Technology, Wall Street Journal, Guardian (UK), and Ha’aretz going back over two years.

Since October 2001, the USAF has pursued at least two tracks in munitions development. The older track goes back to Vietnam and the 15,000 lb. bomb popularly known as “Daisy Cutter.” This weapon was designed to create helicopter landing zones by destroying vegetation across a 250 radius without creating a crater. The key to obtaining these weapons effects lay in the use of a three-foot extension protruding from the bomb nose as the munition descends on a parachute The force of the explosion flings the bomb’s payload – metalized slurry – at extremely high velocity but for only short distances.

In 2006, the air force tested what it called the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator” (MOP) as part of its program to develop non-nuclear munitions that would be capable of penetrating earth, concrete, and rock up to 20o feet without exploding.

Most of the weight – almost 25,000 lbs, is in the casing, special heavy steel that will survive the stress of penetration and then the counter-stress of very high acceleration after detonating. Estimates of weapons specialists credit the MOP with 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor, the BLU-109. (Bomb Live Unit-109).

The other approach involves improving the precision of smaller “smart munitions” (satellite-guided) in the 500, 250, and even 100 lb. range. Traditional high explosive iron bombs, whether guided or dumb, kill primarily through the shrapnel produced when the blast shatters the bomb casing (and the destruction of materials in the blast zone. The new, so-called “focused lethality munitions” have a carbon-fiber shell casing that simply disintegrates into fibers – that is, to say, no shrapnel is produced. The “smart bomb” achieves its destructive effect through the blast force which, because the bomb casing disintegrates so readily, is not absorbed. The result is an increase in the blast effect the closer the target is to the point of detonation but to reduce the radius of the destructive force overall when compared to traditional munitions.

On top of this change, the space normally filled with the high explosive payload is filled with a newly developed dense metallic powder substance. On detonating, the explosive force flings the metallic powder into the surrounding space at speeds high enough to cause death or severe injury by “slicing” through limb s or vital organs. The distance the powder traverses before the blast force succumbs to gravitational effects is short, thus again limiting the killing zone.”

In 2006, the informal schedule for developing the metallic powder munition called for fielding 50 warheads and testing them in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. Since then, information on developing the weapon has been more difficult to find – until now.

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