The pictures released last week of Iraqi high-tech explosives surprised me. These special ‘superbombs’ that have caused so many US casualties — they look like they had been assembled in someone’s garage.
These bombs belong to a class known as EFP –‘Explosively Formed Projectile’ or ‘Explosively Formed Penetrator,’ depending on who you’re talking to. They compress a metal liner into a slug and fire it at the target some distance away.
The picture shows what a real EFP munition looks like. This is M2 Selectable Lightweight Attack Munition (SLAM). It’s small enough to put in your pocket and weighs a couple of pounds.
This version has been used by US Special Forces for the last 15 years or so. As GlobalSecurity.org describes it, SLAM is versatile, too:
It will be used to support hit-and-run, ambush, and harassing, and urban warface missions. SLAM will also be employed by Light Combat Engineers and Rangers where missions warrant the use of such a device.…SLAM is lightweight, lethal, easily emplaced, and can be carried in the quantity necessary to neutralize a broad range of targets.
Different modes allow SLAM to be triggered by the heat or magnetic signature of a passing vehicle or by a timer — or it can be set off by a human operator. It can be emplaced in seconds and spits out a lethal slug which can punch through 40mm of steel armor at a range of 25 feet. You can leave it on the ground covered in dirt to attack a vehicle’s belly, or conceal it beside a road for side attack.
No doubt the Russians and Chinese have their own versions of SLAM, and these have probably been copied too. So you might expect a rougher, cheaper copy to appear in Iraq if it was supplied from the outside.
But as has been observed here, anyone can make crude and simple EFP munitions in a basic workshop. All you need is a lump of plastic explosive and a piece of copper. Shape the copper into a saucer, put the explosive under it, and you’re there. Obviously this will be a lot less efficient, accurate and reliable than something like SLAM (optimal design of the the metal ‘lens’ is an art requiring a lot of computer power), but you can compensate by making it ten times bigger if you need to.
Maybe the insurgents should be given some credit for being able to build their own gear, or maybe there’s more intelligence we don’t know. But if EFP mines were being supplied by an outside source, you might expect to see somethng a lot slicker.
UPDATE 11:37: Speaking of surprises, Centcom commander Adm. Fox Fallon doesn’t agree that the Iranian government has been supplying Iraq’s EFPs. He’s not alone. Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Peter Pace, on the other hand, seemed to back away from his previous, doubting statements — at least a little. More here.
UPDATE 01:20: The bombs aren’t the only issue, of course. According to the Telegraph, Iranian-supplied sniper rifles are also making their way into Iraq.
UPDATE 02:24: Bush has no doubt.
UPDATE 15/02/07: Steyr, the Austrian makers of those .50 cal sniper rifles say there’s no proof they came from Iran — and that they might not even be Steyr-made rifles at all.
– David Hambling