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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
US ponders weapons strategy
US Navy Nautilus Submarine
ICBMs can be fired from US submarines
The United States military is considering the idea of using intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) armed with conventional warheads in future conflicts.

An official said the advantage of the missile, launched from a submarine anywhere in the world, was its speed.

He did not mention Iraq, but the BBC Washington correspondent says the work is part of an attempt to find ways of combating weapons of mass destruction.

President George W Bush has said that Iraq is part of an "axis of terror", which is stockpiling such weapons.

Rapid deployment

The Pentagon has a large number of ICBMs, developed during the Cold War.

Now they are no longer targeted at Russia and are no longer tipped with nuclear weapons.

Stephen Younger, head of the Pentagon's Defence Threat Reduction Agency, stressed the advantage of rapid deployment offered by ICBMs.

"For example, if you were to see from a satellite that an adversary was preparing to launch a Scud missile and you had reason to believe there was a biological warhead on it, then you would want to have the ability to destroy that target very quickly before that Scud was launched," he said.

However, Mr Younger confirmed that there were problems to be overcome, including the danger that an ICBM launch might be mistaken by Russia as a nuclear attack.

There is also the issue of whether other nations could object to the missiles overflying their territory.

The Pentagon is also developing sensors that could detect chemical and biological agents over long distances, thus giving troops better advanced warning of the presence of such weapons.

Foam theory

Another plan under consideration is the use of a thick foam to envelop suspected chemical or biological weapons.

It would be safer than using conventional weapons, which run the risk of triggering a leak of poison gas or biological agents.

"It's not as simple as blowing it up," said Mr Younger.

The basic research had been done, he added, and the technology was available, although the idea was still at the "concept stage".

There are two kinds of foam under consideration - a hard foam that would block access to facilities, or a sticky foam that would temporarily disable objects and give US troops time to attack.

The foam could be dropped using a bomb with an earth-penetrating warhead, or sprayed by land forces.

Another refinement could be the use of toxic agents in the foam, or chemicals that would destroy the agent being attacked.

US Missile Defence

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