- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS — U.S. weapons makers have at one ammunition factory doubled the production rate of laser-guided bombs, added a shift to assemble satellite-guided bomb tail kits and boosted production to its highest level in 15 years.

Some of the ordnance will replace weapons used in the war in Afghanistan, but another reason for the buildup is to stockpile weapons for possible military action against Iraq, analysts say.

Accusing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein both of hoarding chemical and biological weapons and of seeking nuclear bombs, President Bush has said he wants to see Saddam removed from power. However, Mr. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld say they have no immediate plans to go to war with Iraq.

"The job of Central Command is to be prepared for that Iraq contingency, and that plan is probably pretty well in development," said retired Rear Adm. Stephen Baker, a former naval operations director for Central Command.

"One thing they need to do is bring the stockpiles up, particularly of the laser-guided bombs and JDAMs and Tomahawk missiles."

JDAM stands for Joint Direct Attack Munition, the satellite-guided bomb that has been a favorite U.S. weapon in the war in Afghanistan. Military planners love the JDAM for its pinpoint accuracy and relatively low cost of less than $25,000 each.

About 9,000 new JDAMs have been built this year, compared with about 10,000 total by the end of last year. Analysts have estimated that more than half of the first 10,000 JDAMs were used in Afghanistan and that even more would be needed for an attack on Iraq.

The military still has only a fraction of the 40,000 to 50,000 JDAMs it wants, said analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.

"They had obviously used up a significant fraction of what was on hand, and what was on hand a year ago was only a small fraction of what they want to have on hand," Mr. Pike said.

Precision weapons like JDAMs would be key to any attack on Iraq, since they would allow the United States to focus its firepower on Saddam's military infrastructure while minimizing civilian casualties. The accurate weapons also allow the same number of planes to hit more targets in less time.

Mr. Pike said one Navy admiral has credited the JDAM with increasing the lethality of an aircraft carrier fivefold.

"It's only when you start thinking about that quantum leap in air-power lethality that it starts to become plausible that you could take military action against Iraq without having a massive, multimonth [troop] buildup like they had a decade ago," Mr. Pike said.

A Boeing Co. factory in St. Charles, Mo., assembles the JDAM kits, which fit over the tail of 1,000-pound or 2,000-pound "dumb" bombs to turn them into satellite-guided weapons.

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