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The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan

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Oh, the Horror, the Horror
by James Dunnigan
September 12, 2007

Discussion Board on this DLS topic

The British media were in an uproar recently when it was announced that the British army was purchasing American M72A9 portable rocket launchers for its troops in Afghanistan. The A9 version of the M72 is an eight pound, one shot rocket launcher with a warhead described as optimized for destroying structures. The British media immediately jumped to the conclusion that the A9 used a thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) warhead. Shoulder fired rockets with thermobaric warheads have been used in Iraq, by American troops, since 2004. This type of warhead, when it goes off inside a building, or cave, first disperses a combustible mist, which is then ignited, producing an enormous explosion, that often destroys small buildings, and kills everyone in the room, and adjacent rooms and hallways. European media have demonized thermobaric weapons, depicting them as inhumane.

Exactly how a thermobaric explosive is less humane than any other weapon is never investigated with much vigor. Apparently thermobaric is bad, if only because the Americans use them. Actually, it was the Russians who first developed small thermobaric warheads. Since the Europeans consider the Russians a bunch of barbarians (a centuries old tradition, which goes a long way to explain why the Russians are so leery of Western Europeans), this all somehow fits together.

The exact composition of the A9 warhead is kept secret, but from the description that is given (lots of blast and not much heat) it is apparently a slower burning explosive. This would produce a "longer explosion", that would tend to bring down structures. Nothing new here. Scientists have been manipulating the "burn rate" of explosives for over a century. The slowest burning explosives are used as rocket motors. That's all a "solid fuel" rocket motor is; a very slow burning explosive. Otherwise, the speed at which the explosive burns varies depending on what you are blowing up, and for what reason. Most of this has to do with industrial, not military, uses of explosives.

Europeans have a long history of trying to outlaw "inhumane" weapons. One of the earliest efforts was against the cross bow. However, this terrible weapon (which enabled a poorly trained commoner to easily bring down an armored aristocrat on horseback), could be used against Moslems, and other non-Christians. The $2,500 M72A9 will mostly be used to kill Moslems.


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