Watch CBSN Live

New Weapons Threat From Iraq

A U.S. intelligence official has confirmed a CBS News report that Iraq was attempting to develop an unmanned aircraft that could be used to deliver biological weapons on targets as far away as Israel.

The pilotless aircraft program, elements of which have been previously reported by the defense publication Jane's, is not covered under U.N.weapons inspections, reports CBS News Pentagon correspondent David Martin.

Iraq is attempting to convert a jet trainer, known as the L-29, into an unmanned aircraft to carry tanks filled
with nerve gas or anthrax, Martin says. U.S. intelligence has no proof that the Iraqis have yet succeeded in making the system work - it apparently has not yet developed a tank that could be filled with a biological agent and attached to the aircraft. In fact, one of the L-29s crashed recently during a test flight.

The jet would become a slow-moving missile with a range of about 500 miles, great enough to reach targets in Israel as well as most of the U.S. force concentrations in the Persian Gulf, Martin reported.

Even if Iraq succeeds, Martin says, the unmanned plane would pose very little threat to U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf, since it would have to get past American jets patrolling the no-fly zone in southern Iraq, as well as patriot missiles deployed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Mideast analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in November that Iraq was seeking to develop unmanned planes to deliver biological weapons because they "offer important ways of producing delivery systems while avoiding many of the U.N. constraints on ballistic missiles."

U.N. resolutions forbid Iraq from developing ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver weapons of mass destruction but pose no obstacle to Iraq's development of pilotless aircraft.

In addition to seeking to convert fixed-wing aircraft into unmanned systems, Iraq also has experimented with using helicopters and cruise missiles, according to Cordesman.

Martin says the Iraqis mounted a crash program to convert MIG-21s to fly with chemical or biological agents in fuel tanks under its wings just before the Gulf War in 1991. The program was interrupted by the war, and all the fuel tanks have since been accounted for by the U.N., he says.

Weapons inspectors say other tanks could be modified to disperse chemical or biological agents in a matter of days, and they would never know it, Martin reports.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue