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Wed, Feb 26, 2003

Iraqi Drones Targeted Against US Cities?

A Homeland Defense Nightmare

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, FAA Director Marion Blakey and TSA Director James Loy have bad dreams, they might go something like this:

In advance of a conflict between an American-led coalition and Iraq... terrorists backed by Saddam Hussein sneak into the United States. They take delivery on electronics and other parts - nothing really suspicious by themselves - but assembled, constitute a UAV. Or several of them. Armed with spray tanks and guided by American-built GPS satellites, the drones are sent to cities across America, where, almost undetectably, they release their deadly cargo and poison thousands of people.

It May Be Happening Now.

The prospect was first raised during Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council earlier this month (right). In presenting America's case for military intervention in Iraq, Powell showed members video images of an Iraqi Mirage F-1 shot in 1991. The fighter was spraying simulated anthrax toxins from tanks retrofitted beneath the aircraft. Powell also indicated that unmanned MIG-21 fighters were retrofitted with these spray tanks and could be used to deliver deadly toxins over wide areas at long ranges.

"The Iraqi regime has also developed ways to disburse lethal biological agents, widely and discriminately into the water supply, into the air,"Powell told the Council. "For example, Iraq had a program to modify aerial fuel tanks for Mirage jets. This video of an Iraqi test flight obtained by UNSCOM some years ago shows an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet aircraft. Note the spray coming from beneath the Mirage; that is 2,000 liters of simulated anthrax that a jet is spraying.

In 1995, an Iraqi military officer, Mujahid Sali Abdul Latif, told inspectors that Iraq intended the spray tanks to be mounted onto a MiG-21 that had been converted into an unmanned aerial vehicle, or a UAV. UAVs outfitted with spray tanks constitute an ideal method for launching a terrorist attack using biological weapons.

Iraq Has The Technology

Iraq admitted to producing four spray tanks. But to this day, it has provided no credible evidence that they were destroyed, evidence that was required by the international community.

"There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction. If biological weapons seem too terrible to contemplate, chemical weapons are equally chilling."

Powell went on to describe the UAV's themselves... relatively simple aircraft that could be either hand-launched or flown from small grass strips anywhere in the world. He said the size of the aircraft would make them very hard to detect and destroy in flight.

Rumsfeld: They Could Be Here Now 

Speaking at the Hoover Institute in Washington Tuesday, DEFSEC Rumsfeld amplified those statements, after news reports that Iraqi drones, fitted with spray canisters, may well be in this country already, part of Saddam's potential plan counterstrike if there is indeed a conflict to effect "regime change" in Baghdad. The drones would be fitted with GPS targeting capabilities... and would be, in essence "fire-and-forget" weapons that could be launched from more than 100 miles away.

"They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and capabilities," the DEFSEC said on Tuesday. "They're perfectly capable of being spraying and aerosol capabilities. Today, with Global Position Systems - (GPS) - and the kinds of maps that one can buy regularly, these things can be purchased and used and guided with great precision." Rumsfeld said these unmanned aircraft would certainly be capable of dispensing chemical and biological weapons.

"We know that Iraq has a number of so-called UAVs... unmanned aerial vehicles of different types. They train with them and exercise them."

Rumsfeld told the audience at Hoover these UAVs "vary dramatically in ranges. In some cases, countries have taken regular manned aircraft and equipped them for unmanned flight. So they would have the typical type of range depending on the speed and circumstance of the aircraft that they converted. As for the smaller types made directly for the purpose as opposed to converted manned aircraft, we've seen them go hundreds of kilometers. It can be done two ways. It can be done on a guided basis or on a pre-programmed basis. And, as I say, with great precision."

One Reason We Remain At High Risk For Terror

Homeland Security officials say they've been aware of the potential for an airborne Iraqi chemical or biological threat for about four months now. That, say government officials, is one reason the terror threat assessment was raised from "yellow" or elevated risk to "orange" or high risk. The high risk assessment will continue, said Homeland Security Director Ridge, for the time being.

ANN Note: If this threat starts looking credible, expect the aviation industry to see restrictions of unprecedented proportions. We've talked to AOPA about this and we know they are looking into what may be necessary to deal with such possibilities. We hope that other associations are also contemplating how we might collectively respond to such a threat. We'll keep you informed...



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