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Sleeping weapons

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Military developing 'loitering' and 'sleeping' weapons

The Associated Press
2/7/03 1:59 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- They sleep. They hide. And when an enemy sticks his neck out, they kill.

The Defense Department is preparing new weapons that can loiter over a battlefield or sneak into enemy territory and "sleep" until an appropriate military target blunders into their sights.

Some weapons envisioned are mere concepts and may never be produced. Others, like Lockheed Martin's 5-foot-long Loitering Attack Missile, are already being tested.

The idea, developers and contractors say, is that the best way to hit an elusive target is to hide a weapon inside enemy territory ahead of time.

In the Gulf War, U.S. forces were unable to find and strike a single Iraqi mobile Scud missile launcher, a failure that has catalyzed a slew of new military technology aimed at narrowing the delay between spotting and destroying a target.

Loitering weapons are "the next big step in combat effectiveness," said Glenn Buchan, a RAND expert in unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites. "You hang around an area so you can see the target before it shoots, and kill it before it hides."

The Lockheed missile, for example, sprouts wings and fins and flies to a map coordinate. It then can wander above the area for 45 minutes, using a laser-radar seeker to search the ground for a target to destroy, said Steve Altman, development manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Dallas.

The LAMs are fired from a rectangular launch box that can sit on the back of an Army Humvee, Altman said.

"These missiles are at your side, almost like a sidearm," he said. "It's nice to find your enemy while he's way far away from you, before he starts shooting at you."

Lockheed plans a second test flight of the LAM this month. Lockheed hopes to deliver the missile to the Army in time to go into service in 2008, Altman said.

The LAM's 45 minutes of loiter time doesn't allow it the patience of an unmanned aerial vehicle, which can hover over a battlefield for hours, waiting for a target. UAVs armed with air-to-ground missiles have already killed people targeted by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Yemen.

For the next generation of UAVs, the Pentagon wants still longer dwell time so they can "sit above an area for a very long time, to track a small band of terrorists or watch for an armored column," said Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser at Center for Strategic and International Studies.

At the Army's Aviation and Missile Command in Ft. Eustis, Va., officials have proposed a small UAV that could ferry supplies to forward troops -- or fly small bombs into enemy targets.

The Pentagon is considering whether to fund the program, called Quick Delivery, for rapid development, according to a pamphlet from Ft. Eustis. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Don Sewell declined to discuss the proposal.

Sleeping weapons under consideration by the Air Force would actually spend most of their time on the ground as simple sensors that can transmit electronic data.

The sensor-bombs would be dropped from airplanes onto enemy territory and would hide until detecting a target and being commanded to destroy it. One version under consideration wakes up, pops open and fires a missile, said Steve Butler, engineering director at the Air Armaments Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

"If you had an area that you believed was a launch site for Scuds or other time-critical targets, you might drop some of these things into the area," Butler said. "The concept of loitering is to dig a little burrow and hide out until you're called to act."

The design requires adding a weapon and firing mechanism to ground sensors already in use to transmit pictures, recordings, vibrations or the metal composition of enemy vehicles.

"If you want to listen to a remote runway, to be aware of planes coming and going, you could drop one of these sensors in the woods nearby and have it wake up every time a plane flies in or out," said Butler. "Add a weapon to one of them and you've got a whole new concept."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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