Outside View: Vacuum-bomb warning

By ANDREI KISLYAKOV, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  Sept. 17, 2007 at 2:20 PM
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MOSCOW, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Russia has tested the world's most powerful vacuum bomb on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the horrendous Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Famous Russian author Anton Chekhov once wrote: "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off."

The latest vacuum-bomb test, which was bound to be developed sooner or later, is a warning to all potential enemies.

The world had amassed so many weapons in the 20th century that they must be used, no matter what. The 34 major and small wars fought in the 1990s include Operation Desert Storm, two campaigns in Chechnya, a self-proclaimed republic in the North Caucasus, and a violent conflict in Yugoslavia.

Efforts to combat terrorism, an omnipresent threat, have become a top priority.

Although humanity has not invented an alternative to the use of weapons, pitched battles involving fronts, armies, corps and divisions are now history. A study of recent and future conflicts shows that they feature fast combat operations in small sectors lacking clear boundaries. Moreover, the situation can change at a breathtaking pace.

Reconnaissance and target-acquisition systems are now entering the spotlight. It will no longer be necessary to deploy tank armadas and hundreds of artillery pieces per every kilometer of the front.

Massive strikes are giving way to precision-guided weapons for hitting relatively small enemy units and installations.

For obvious reasons, nuclear weapons will continue to play the part of deterrent, but conventional arms packing nearly the same devastating punch are now called on to accomplish strategic objectives.

Both the United States and Russia are moving to upgrade conventional weaponry. Two years ago, Washington decided to install conventional warheads on Trident-2 submarine-launched missiles. But the Pentagon encountered serious political problems and was eventually forced to scrap the program. Now the U.S. military is developing the long-awaited penetration bombs capable of destroying hardened bunkers.

Moscow is focusing on the rather exotic vacuum bombs, which have been around for quite a while.

The United States used vacuum bombs in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. Russian-made TOS-1 heavy flame-thrower systems fired thermobaric warheads at Mujahideen positions in the 1980s and were also used to hit Chechen separatists in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Vacuum bombs are also known as thermobaric munitions containing volatile hydrocarbon mixtures. They are released when the bomb explodes about 10 meters, or more than 30 feet, above ground level, mix with oxygen in the atmosphere and form a highly explosive aerosol cloud 20 meters, or more than 60 feet, in diameter and 3 meters, or more than nine feet, high. The cloud detonates 100-140 milliseconds later.

The explosion causes a supersonic shock wave traveling at 3 kilometers per second, or 2,160 miles per hour,and causing excessive pressure of up to 30 kilograms, or 66 pounds, per square centimeter. Deep vacuum is formed after the explosion cloud sucks out the air and solid particles.

The blast forms a distinctive mushroom cloud most commonly associated with nuclear munitions. When the United States used a large vacuum bomb in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, the press said a tactical nuclear warhead had been detonated.

Although thermobaric bomb components cannot effectively destroy various obstacles, they are used with devastating results on military personnel. In some cases, these aerosol clouds do not explode due to rain or powerful winds but can, nonetheless, seep into every crack and poison all living things.

After the explosion, the survivors are subjected to a powerful shock wave and deep vacuum. According to doctors, such munitions cause very characteristic wounds, such as contusions and blindness; they also pierce eardrums, burn lungs and the respiratory tract, cause numerous internal bleeding, dislocate and rupture internal organs.

Nuclear weapons can also produce a certain vacuum effect. For example, two nuclear warheads could explode in a preset area in quick succession; the second explosion would take place in an extremely dense environment and would cause much greater destruction than normally expected.


(Andrei Kislyakov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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