Information Warfare: August 11, 2003



Napalm made the news again recently as reporters breathlessly announced that American aircraft had used napalm during the Iraq campaign. According to the Department of Defense, the Mark 77 Firebomb was used by marine warplanes several times in support of marines battling their way towards Baghdad. 

Napalm is jelled gasoline, an incendiary bomb that originally used gasoline, naphthene and palmitate to create a large, deadly and impressive fireball when it went off. The term "napalm" comes from the two original ingredients naphthene and palmitate. After World War II, an improved formulation using benzene (21%), gasoline (33%), and polystyrene (46%) replaced the older version. 

Napalm was popular with American troops during World War II because it was able to get at enemy troops in caves and fortifications. Napalm saved lots of American lives. During the Vietnam war, napalm got bad press because it was used near civilians, killing and injuring many civilians. But it stayed in the arsenal until, after the Cold War ended, large stocks of aging, and unlikely to ever be used, bombs and other munitions were destroyed. In the 1990s, the navy, which had the last remaining stock of napalm, decided to destroy their existing 34,563 napalm bombs and 2.6 million gallons of napalm. This was completed in 2001 and press releases issued.

The Mark 77 Firebomb is made using kerosene and benzine. When it hits a target, it looks like the two earlier versions of napalm, but the Department of Defense says it isnt napalm. Of course, technically, the post World War II version of napalm wasn't napalm either. However, the Department of Defense didn't create the Mark 77 firebomb in secret. Reference to it can be found in a 1999 document at A more complete description can be found in a 2002 document at But the Department of Defense didn't make any effort to call attention to this third generation napalm. This appears to be an information war tactic that worked, for a while. Interestingly, the media jumping on the Mark 77 story produced little uproar, indicating that napalm has lots its sting, at least as an image issue.


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