Defense Update - News Analysis by David Eshel

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thermobaric Explosives - the Perfect Weapon for Urban Terrorists

The not so distant threat could involve a new terrorist weapon: the Thermobaric bomb.

Canadian defence scientists are leading an international effort to devise protection against new and more powerful terrorist explosives designed to flatten buildings and rupture people's internal organs. This kind is of weapon, developed during the Cold War in the former Soviet Union, is known highly lethal in confined surroundings, such as underground tube systems and rail carriages.

The Thermobaric bomb is just about the most vicious weapon you can imagine - igniting the air, sucking the oxygen out of an enclosed area, and creating a massive pressure wave crushing anything unfortunate enough to have lived through the conflagration. "Sofar there have been no attacks with thermobaric bombs in the United States, but their use is suspected in many terrorist bombings in Russia and other countries and proven in a few cases," said Tom Burky, Battelle’s top explosives expert.

Numerous industrial accidents attest to the power of thermobaric explosions-a massive blast in Iran this year has been blamed on a fuel-air explosion after a train carrying petrol derailed. The soviet Union developed a wide range of thermobaric weapons, which were used by Russia in the Chechnya campaign of 1999. A US Marine Corps study, based on interviews with Russian officers and Chechens, concluded that they were capable of killing troops in bunkers and destroying buildings that had not been reinforced. Walls and surfaces do not necessarily shield victims, notes a US training manual.

New Russian developments include a compact multi-shot thermobaric grenade launcher for urban combat and a thermobaric warhead for the RPG-7 used by guerrilla forces worldwide. Similar products are offered for export by the Bulgarians and other Eastern European nations. Rumors of a Chinese licensed copy of the Russian Shmel anti-tank missile appear to be confirmed by technical intelligence. It has the same calibre, same appearance but is described as "fuel air blasting explosive".

In the hands of terrorists such weapons could become devastating and there are already signs that terrorist too are trying to create thermobaric weapons.

Read more in this Defense Update thermobaric weapon story.

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