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S P E C I A L: Inspecting Iraq

Report: Iraq working on unmanned planes

CIA/Plane graphic February 26, 1998
Web posted at: 11:00 a.m. EST (1600 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi is attempting to develop an unmanned aircraft capable of delivering chemical or biological agents, according to a U.S. intelligence report.

Elements of the pilotless aircraft program previously have been reported by the defense publication Jane's, and the project is under investigation by U.S. intelligence agents, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

An intelligence official told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that Iraq was trying to convert an L-29 trainer jet into an unmanned delivery system for nerve gas or the biological agent anthrax.

The jet would have a range of about 500 miles, great enough to reach targets in Israel as well as most of the U.S. force concentrations in the Persian Gulf, he said. But one version of the aircraft recently crashed during a test flight, and Iraq has not yet developed a tank that could be filled with a biological agent and attached to the aircraft.

Aero L-29 Delfin
Aero L-29 Delfin   

"There's no evidence of success in making it work," the official said.

Even if Iraq were successful, the plane would have to fly through a gauntlet of U.S. aircraft patrolling southern and northern Iraq and then evade highly capable U.S. or Israeli air defense systems.

Iraq is required by U.N. resolutions to destroy its long-range missiles, but there is no ban against an unmanned aircraft.

According to a report Wednesday on "The CBS Evening News," Iraq previously admitted that before the Gulf War it mounted a crash program to convert a MiG 21 that could carry chemical or biological agents in fuel tanks under its wings.

The program was interrupted by the Gulf War and all the fuel tanks have since been accounted for by the United Nations, CBS said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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