Thursday, November 06, 2003

How did the Iraqis do it? Mystery weapon

"Shortly before dawn on Aug. 28, an M1A1 Abrams tank on routine patrol in Baghdad “was hit by something” that crippled the 69-ton behemoth. Army officials still are puzzling over what that “something” was.
According to an unclassified Army report, the mystery projectile punched through the vehicle’s skirt and drilled a pencil-sized hole through the hull. The hole was so small that “my little finger will not go into it,” the report’s author noted. The “something” continued into the crew compartment, where it passed through the gunner’s seatback, grazed the kidney area of the gunner’s flak jacket and finally came to rest after boring a hole 1½ to 2 inches deep in the hull on the far side of the tank.
As it passed through the interior, it hit enough critical components to knock the tank out of action. That made the tank one of only two Abrams disabled by enemy fire during the Iraq war and one of only a handful of “mobility kills” since they first rumbled onto the scene 20 years ago. The other Abrams knocked out this year in Iraq was hit by an RPG-7, a rocket-propelled grenade. Experts believe whatever it is that knocked out the tank in August was not an RPG-7 but most likely something new — and that worries tank drivers."

I'm sure it does.

"While it’s impossible to determine what caused the damage without actually examining the tank, some conclusions can be drawn from photos that accompanied the incident report. Those photos show a pencil-size penetration hole through the tank body, but very little sign of the distinctive damage — called spalling — that typically occurs on the inside surface after a hollow- or shaped-charge warhead from an anti-tank weapon burns its way through armor.
Spalling results when an armor penetrator pushes a stream of molten metal ahead of it as it bores through an armored vehicle’s protective skin.

“It’s a real strange impact,” said a source who has worked both as a tank designer and as an anti-tank weapons engineer. “This is a new one. … It almost definitely is a hollow-charge warhead of some sort, but probably not an RPG-7” anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade." The well-known RPG-7 has been the scourge of lightly armored vehicles since its introduction more than 40 years ago. Its hollow-charge warhead easily could punch through an M1’s skirt and the relatively thin armor of its armpit joint, the area above the tracks and beneath the deck on which the turret sits, just where the mystery round hit the tank. An RPG-7 can penetrate about 12 inches of steel — a thickness far greater than the armor that was penetrated on the tank in Baghdad. But the limited spalling evident in the photos accompanying the incident report all but rules out the RPG-7 as the culprit, experts say.
Limited spalling is a telltale characteristic of Western-manufactured weapons designed to defeat armor with a cohesive jet stream of molten metal. In contrast, RPG-7s typically produce a fragmented jet spray.

The incident is so sensitive that most experts in the field would talk only on the condition that they not be identified."

I'm sure that really reassures the lads. And wasn't everyone so sure this was going to be easy? The front runners seem to be either the latest Russian antitank kit or a Swiss weapon of some kind. But there are wilder ideas - for example, an old-fashioned antitank rifle given depleted uranium ammo, or even an electromagnetic railgun, a small version of an idea developed as part of the Star Wars project - it uses a succession of very powerful magnets rather like a maglev train's motor to accelerate a tiny projectile to insane speeds.


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