Electronic Weapons: May 6, 2003

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To prevent Iraqi air forces from detecting and shooting at the 300 Tomahawk cruise missiles the U.S. Navy launched on the opening night of the war, a unique distraction was used. The Navy took five Firebee target UAVs and set them loose over Baghdad. Three of the Firebees were launched from a C-130 modified for the task. Two other Firebees were launched from Kuwait. The one ton Firebees were themselves to dispense chaff (strips of tinfoil that cause radar to see a huge electronic "cloud" and nothing else.) The five Firebees, with an endurance of about an hour, criss crossed Baghdad until their fuel ran out, and then crashed. Iraqi air defenses were suitably shocked and awed and did not interfere with the cruise missiles that arrived soon after the Firebees went down. This was a bit of a swan song for the Firebees, which first entered service in the 1950s. The Firebee is due to be replaced by a more capable UAV next year. Some 6500 Firebees were built over the last fifty years.

 


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