Warplanes: September 11, 2001


Many nations that have chemical weapons (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) have a problem in delivering them over long distances. Aircraft can be shot down and chemical warheads for missiles are rather difficult to design and build. So Iraq is working on another approach, using small, low flying drone aircraft. Such aircraft fly low enough to avoid many radar system and do not arouse the same sort of alarm as a warplane would. Israel has long feared terrorists using small, single engine aircraft, crammed with explosives or chemical weapons and flown by a suicidal pilot, making a run on densely populated Jewish neighborhood. But suicide pilots are apparently difficult to recruit. Iraq's solution is their L-29 drone aircraft, flying low, slow and quiet to a distant target. Range was not announced, but apparently they are trying to develop a drone that can reach Israel from western Iraq (right on the Jordanian border.) This may all be for show, as the Iraqis know the Israelis are capable of massive retaliation and are not reluctant to strike back of someone kills a lot of Israelis. But the L-29 project does show another dimension of terrorist activity. There is nothing top secret about drone aircraft. A few good engineers with, say a hundred million bucks to play with could put some together, with auto-pilot, work out the bugs and then deliver a reliable robotic aircraft with a range of several hundred kilometers and a payload of several hundred pounds. Depending on how much you have to pay your engineers, each of these killer drones would cost from half a million dollars, to several million dollars, each. And unlike a nuclear warhead, which can weigh half a ton or more (for a first generation one), you only need a hundred pounds of nerve gas or biological agent to make an impact. 


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