Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has revealed U.S. forces in Iraq used, for the first time, a new, small missile capable of striking enemy forces hidden in bunkers and other hardened complexes.
Mr. Rumsfeld tells Congress the new weapon used for the first time in Iraq was a thermobaric Hellfire missile, a small air-to-ground weapon with a special warhead designed to use heat and pressure with devastating effects.
Appearing before the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Rumsfeld describes its unique, precision capabilities.
"One new weapon used for the first time in Iraq, a thermobaric Hellfire missile can take out the first floor of a building without damaging the floors above and is capable of reaching around corners, striking enemy forces that hide in caves and bunkers and hardened multi-room complexes," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld gives no details on how and where the weapon was used during the fighting in Iraq.
But he cites it as a case of high-speed research and development to meet a critical battlefield need. He tells legislators the new Hellfire missile went from development to deployment in less than one year.
Defense officials first disclosed work on the weapon last year. Stephen Younger, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said experiments had been done on arming the air-to-ground missile with a warhead that would ignite an explosive mist, sending a powerful shock wave through a cave or tunnel, annihilating everything and everyone inside.
At least one thermobaric weapon was used by the Air Force in Afghanistan, a large bomb. But until now, it has never been developed in a warhead small enough to fit onto a Hellfire missile, a weapon that is just a little over a meter and a half long and weighs less than 50 kilograms.
Although the Hellfire is normally is launched from a helicopter, some have been fired from Predator unmanned drones.