Saturday, April 05, 2003

Giant Bricks Falling From the Sky

Tornado jets will drop non-explosive bombs on Iraq. Guided slabs of concrete will fall from the sky, with the goal of destroying targets such as tanks while minimizing collateral damage. (If they had more of a sense of humor about it, they could drop pianos.) The idea of dropping non-explosive "kinetic weapons'" from airplanes is not new, however. It was done in World War I:
"Bombing did not play much of a role in World War I, though the attempt to build planes capable of carrying large loads did advance aviation technology, particularly toward the end of the war. The earliest bombs used in the war weren’t bombs at all, but thin steel darts called fl├ęchettes, dropped over soldiers in trenches or on enemy aircraft."
"The first bombers were fairly slow two-person reconnaissance aeroplanes out of which the pilots threw steel arrows, grenades or even stones. Towards the end of the war real bombers, carrying bombs up to 250 kg, were built." (link)

Amusingly, in 1934 a Navy lieutenant named John Edwin Hogg wrote an article titled Is Aerial Warfare Doomed?, in which he argued, based on the poor performance of bombers in WWI, that airplanes would never prove useful in battle. Some choice quotes include:
No aviator entertains the thought that he is going to fly over the enemy anti-aircraft battery in time of war - and live to tell the tale.
[The airplane] is highly vulnerable and cannot be adequately armored. [. . .] In a military sense it offers at best only a hit and run method of fighting. It can take nothing. It can hold nothing. It cannot stay and fight!

Coalition forces in Iraq seem to be doing a pretty good job of flying over Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and "living to tell the tale." And now they have improved upon and recycled the WWI tactic of dropping stones from the sky.

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