In all the brouhaha over the Benghazi affair last year, many people lost sight of unconfirmed reports that the incident revolved around attempts by the USA to either buy back missiles the State Department had previously supplied to Islamic militants, or to supply Libyan weapons - including surface-to-air missiles - from Libya, via Turkey, to Islamic revolutionaries in Syria. Reports about both allegations have dried up since then, and I daresay there's heavy pressure from on high to make sure they stay dried up. Frankly, I find both reports at least potentially credible, given the official blind eye turned by the Obama administration towards (and possibly its covert support for) US groups supporting the so-called 'Arab Spring' uprisings across the Middle East.
The proliferation of such precision-guided weapons is alarming, because they're growing smaller, more portable, much more accurate, and much easier to use. Recent developments include:
- Boeing has announced that it's developing a version of its precision-guided 'Small Diameter Bomb' (a lightweight 250-pound weapon usually carried in racks of four by strike aircraft such as the F-15 or F-16) that can be carried by light counter-insurgency aircraft such as the Brazilian Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, a propeller-driven plane currently slated to be supplied to the Afghan Air Force by the USAF. A single bomb of this type could conceivably also be carried by armed light aircraft such as the Cessna 208 Caravan, which is currently flying with the Iraqi Air Force, equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. If smaller, lighter aircraft like these could carry it, there's no reason it could not be fitted to other light aircraft or small transports - even, potentially, in the belly of commuter airliners, where it could be carried to its target without being detected until it was too late to stop it. Furthermore, equivalent systems such as Israel's Spice 250 glide bomb are coming onto the market, offering similar capabilities to anyone with the money to buy them.
- Standard 'dumb bombs' have been equipped for years with 'strap-on' kits to turn them into 'smart bombs'. For example, the USA's Paveway systems have been sold to air forces all over the world. Now other countries are supplying their own equivalents, without the export safeguards imposed by first-world suppliers. To name just one, South Africa developed its 'Umbani' strap-on guidance kit, including wings to extend the range of the bomb by gliding, and recently announced a deal to license their production in the United Arab Emirates. The kit is specifically optimized for lighter, slower aircraft such as jet trainers rather than fast attack aircraft - precisely the sort of planes that are likely to be found in third world air forces. Dozens of jet trainers are even flown by US civilians - and they're still capable of being armed. Several other countries are working on developing similar systems. Other old-technology weapons are also being upgraded (for example, 'dumb' 2.75" rockets are being upgraded with screw-in guidance systems to convert them into precision weapons). This means that precision guidance capabilities will soon proliferate out of any feasible control. They'll become more and more available to terrorists, who can take advantage of lax third-world security controls to purloin them from military bases.
- Lightweight guided missiles capable of taking out any vehicle in existence are becoming smarter, smaller, and more widely available from more and more suppliers (including countries that will sell them for hard cash to all comers, no questions asked). Already we've seen surface-to-air missiles fired at an Israeli airliner by terrorists. (In response, Israel is fitting its airliners with anti-missile technology.) How long will it take before the same thing happens to an airliner on its approach to or take-off from a major US city? When will a Presidential motorcade be targeted by someone with the equivalent of a TOW missile? It's frighteningly easy to smuggle such weapons across our porous borders. Frankly, I'm surprised such attacks haven't happened already!
- Even small arms are acquiring greater precision and accuracy. For example, a 'smart rifle' has just gone into production, almost guaranteeing hits by novice operators at out to a thousand yards or beyond. Some argue that such weapons shouldn't be sold to civilians at all. I'm not among them - heck, if I could afford one of those 'smart' rifles, I'd buy it tomorrow! - but the risk of one of them ending up in the wrong hands has to be acknowledged.
I fear that the proliferation of precision-guided weapons is making the world a much more dangerous place for all of us. The day can't be far off when such weapons are employed against civilians by terrorists. Imagine what small guided missiles could do to, say, an electrical substation, or a pumping station serving a critical oil or gas pipeline or sewage system. The attackers could stand off, far outside the reach of local security, and cripple such facilities at will. With the advent of 'smart' mortar bombs or ground-launched versions of 'smart' aircraft bombs, this will become even easier for them.
I hope the authorities are trying to figure out how to handle this threat . . . because I'm willing to bet my pension that terrorists are planning to use 'smart' technology against us!