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US Boosting Its High-Tech War Arsenal
16 July 2002
US weapons makers have doubled the production rate of laser-guided bombs, added a shift to assemble satellite-guided bomb tail kits, and boosted production at one ammunition factory to its highest level in 15 years.
Some of the ordnance will replace weapons used in the war in Afghanistan, but another reason for the buildup is to stockpile weapons for possible military action against Iraq, analysts say.
President Bush has said he wants to see Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein removed from power, accusing Hussein of hoarding chemical and biological weapons and seeking nuclear bombs. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld say they have no immediate plans to go to war against Iraq.
"The job of Central Command is to be prepared for that Iraq contingency, and that plan is probably pretty well in development," said retired Rear Adm. Stephen Baker, a former naval operations director for Central Command.
"One thing they need to do is bring the stockpiles up, particularly of the laser-guided bombs and JDAMs and Tomahawk missiles."
JDAM stands for Joint Direct Attack Munition, the satellite-guided bomb that has been a favorite U.S. weapon in the war in Afghanistan. Military planners love the JDAM for its accuracy and relatively low cost of less than $25,000 each.
About 9,000 new JDAMs have been built this year, compared with about 10,000 total by the end of last year. Analysts have estimated that more than half of the first 10,000 JDAMs were used in Afghanistan and that even more would be needed for an attack on Iraq.
The military still has only a fraction of the 40,000 to 50,000 JDAMs it wants, said analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.
Precision weapons such as JDAMs would be key to any attack on Iraq, since they would allow the United States to focus its firepower on Hussein's military infrastructure while minimizing civilian casualties. The accurate weapons also allow the same number of planes to hit more targets in less time.
A Boeing Co. factory in St. Charles, Mo., assembles the JDAM kits, which fit over the tail of 1,000-pound or 2,000-pound "dumb" bombs to turn them into satellite-guided weapons.
Earlier this year, the factory added a second shift of workers to increase production from about 1,000 kits per month to 1,500, said Boeing spokesman Robert Algarotti. The company plans to boost production even further, to 2,000 per month by the end of the year and 2,800 per month by the middle of 2003.
Those rates would add 20,000 or more JDAMs to the U.S. arsenal within a year and about 37,000 by the end of 2003. At the highest rate, Boeing could make enough JDAMs to fill out the 40,000 stockpile in about 14 months.
Raytheon Co. makes laser-guided bombs at a factory in Tucson, Ariz. That factory has added a partial third shift and doubled its production rate, and it is delivering the laser-guided bombs five months ahead of schedule, said Raytheon spokeswoman Sara Hammond.
The United States has tens of thousands of laser-guided bombs on hand, so the need for them is not as critical. Still, up to several thousand have been used in Afghanistan and thousands would be used in any attack on Iraq.
At the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo., production is at its highest rate in 15 years - higher than during the Persian Gulf war. The plant recently got a $92 million contract to make 265 million rounds of small-caliber ammunition for the Army.
Some of that will be used for increased training and some will go into the Army's regular ammunition stockpile, said Karen Engelbret, a spokeswoman for Lake City plant owner Alliant Techsystems.