Air Force: Recycled Ex-Nukes Used to Bomb Iraq
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Many of the cruise missiles used to bombard Iraq this week were recycled from nuclear weapons that had been earmarked to be scrapped, an Air Force colonel said Wednesday.
U.S. forces have launched 44 cruise missiles since early Tuesday against 15 Iraqi air-defense missile sites in retaliation for an Iraqi military incursion into Kurdish territory.
The conventional air-launched missiles were built in the early 1980s by Boeing’s Defense and Space Group, said Col. Dick Wools, manager of the cruise missile product group at Tinker Air Force Base.
Instead of mothballing the $1.5 million nuclear missiles in the mid-1980s, the Air Force had them converted into conventional weapons, said Wools, who oversaw the conversion.
Their engines and guidance software are maintained at Tinker, along with the B-52 bombers used to launch the 3,600-pound cruise missiles.
The refit cost only $150,000 per missile, a fraction of the cost of designing and building new weapons, Wools said.
Only the Air Force uses the recycled missiles, he said. The sea-launched models were built from scratch for the Navy.
``These would have been taken to the boneyard,″ Wools said, gesturing at the battleship gray demonstration missiles in a hangar. ``We saved the taxpayers a lot of money and delivered a very effective weapons system.″
During the refit, the nuclear warheads were removed from the 20-foot-long missiles, and the internal guidance system was augmented by the global positioning system, which uses satellites to help the self-guided weapon pinpoint its target.
To launch the recycled weaponry, the Air Force uses its oldest active bombers, the giant 1950s-era B-52 Stratofortress. Each B-52 can carry 20 of the huge missiles, Wools said.
The first eight missiles fit into a magazine tucked into the same bomb bays that held nuclear bombs during the Cold War. As each missile is launched, the magazine rotates like the cylinder in a revolver to move the next missile into place. Additional missiles are carried under the bombers’ wings.
With its nuclear weapon, the cruise missile could travel 1,500 miles after it was launched. The missile’s range with a conventional payload is classified, but Wools said it leaves the B-52′s crew a comfortable distance from the target.
``As an ex-crew member, I like the idea of not putting people in harm’s way,″ he said.