January 25, 2003
Lost In A Brainstorm

Steven Den Beste has been blogging (most recently here and here) about possible use of anti-transistor microwave weapons to fry Iraqi communications and disable many of their vehicles and weapons:

One last comment about anti-transistor weapons, if we have them and decide to use them. They will almost certainly be used as early as possible against several major Iraqi ground formations. Not only is that a good idea anyway, to eliminate as much of their equipment as possible, but it will add major emphasis to the deal we're trying to make with them. One major focus of the buildup to this war has been to try to convince as much of the Iraqi armed forces as possible to sit it out. We've been dropping leaflets for a long time now which tell them that as long as they sit still, and don't resist us, and don't form to move against us, that we promise not to bomb them. But if they do try to fight, there can and will be no mercy and we'll slaughter them from the air.

Which is no empty threat, and they know it. The mere fact that the leaflets fall from our aircraft is itself persuasive, because the plane that delivers leaflets today can deliver bombs tomorrow. But there's also the experience they had from their last encounter with us. They know of our weapons from our bombing last time, and they know about the Highway of Death. They'll have heard about our war in Afghanistan and will know that if anything our air power has become even more formidable.

I imagine someone in the Pentagon has already thought of this, but I wonder whether it is better to cut off all communications, or to control them. Suppose all of the radios of an Iraqi unit have been fried by a microwave burst, and most of their motor vehicles won't start, either. That would cut the unit off from headquarters. What next?

Here are some possibilities that occur to me:

  1. After the microwave burst, it might be useful to drop some radios along with the leaflets SDB mentions. White flags are not very informative, semaphores have limited range, and more sophisticated communications might be necessary. I can imagine there would be some circumstances in which we would want to instruct an Iraqi unit that had not yet surrendered but was playing possum to "Move two kilometers southwest of your present position by 1900 hours" or "Keep all your troops on the east side of the Bagdhad road until instructed otherwise" or "Turn all your antiaircraft guns so the barrels are pointing at the sand dune to your north". These would be the rough equivalent of the standard police instruction "Step away from the car". The point is that there might be some units that we would want to do simple things for our convenience even if we had not yet had a chance to accept their surrender and take them into custody. Fear of daisy cutters would likely induce them to do as they were told. Having them move around at our command would be one good way to find out whether they had gotten the message and decided to sit out the war.
  2. Of course, we wouldn't want to undo the effects of the microwave burst by reestablishing Iraqi communications at our expense. So we wouldn't want to drop ordinary radios. Surely we could drop radios that could only send on frequency X and receive on frequency Y. These frequencies could also differ from unit to unit. We would then be able to communicate with each Iraqi unit separately, but they would not be able to communicate with each other, and no unit would know what we were saying to the others. Once word got around -- which could take a while -- that would also help spread paranoia among the uncooperative units. Besides fixed frequencies, some kind of coding / decoding software could no doubt be designed to prevent ordinary normal radios from communicating with these special radios. In sum, the idea is to cut off their communications with headquarters while simultaneously allowing them to signal surrender more efficiently than with white flags.
  3. An interesting twist would be to drop radios with no volume control or off switch. I guess that makes them radio-loudspeakers. Like ordinary radios, these could obviously be smashed with rifle butts or shot or run over with trucks (if any of the trucks were still running). But until then they would be telling Iraqi troops whatever we wanted them to hear, even if their officers did not want them to hear it. We could also use such devices to play loud ugly music in the middle of the night, or sounds of animals being slaughtered, or whatever was best calculated to lower their morale and make them want to surrender. Janet Reno's men in Waco had some interesting ideas along these lines. Of course, in dealing with Iraqi troops, we would have to make sure not to violate the Geneva Convention.
  4. (Added 4:30 PM) Another twist would be to drop radio-loudspeakers that would blow up if anyone tried to destroy them or even move them very far. I don't suppose this would be a violation of the Geneva Convention as long as they had clear warning labels, though it might be necessary to classify them as talking bombs or musical mines rather than exploding radios. A few of these lying around a base talking and singing away at high volume would definitely be bad for morale. What they should broadcast is an interesting puzzle: there are so many possibilities. Nominations are invited, and may be placed in the comments. Categories:
    1. Most demoralizing song. Please note that I'm not asking for your nominations for the worst song ever written, or the one you would most hate to have to listen to yourself, just the one that would be most demoralizing to an Arabic-speaking Iraqi forced to listen to it over and over, possibly at high volume.
    2. Most demoralizing verbal message. Lots of possibilities here. Friendly warnings would probably be more effective than insults.
    3. Most demoralizing miscellaneous noise. Bombs bursting in air? Howler monkeys howling? Lions roaring? Soft rustling and scuttling noises as if a thousand scorpions and centipedes were in the immediate vicinity? The ticking of a clock?

I hope someone in the Defense Department has been thinking along these lines. It's a little late to get started now.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at January 25, 2003 11:03 AM