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Sensor fuzed weapons aid combat in Iraq

By Kris Osborn
CNN Headline News

U.S. Army soldiers from the 588th Engineering Battalion wait at a staging area to board a Blackhawk helicopter for a pre-dawn raid in northeastern Iraq on August 11.

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(CNN) -- "It was a threatening situation," said U.S. Air Force Col. James Knox, describing a scene in early April when an Iraqi tank column was advancing on a Marine unit southwest of Baghdad.

The situation was like many during the major combat period of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in this particular circumstance, the Marine unit did not have its' own tank support.

The result, according to U.S. Air Force officials, was the first ever combat use of a new weapon, the CBU-105 or sensor fuzed weapon. Knox said the weapon performed very well, noting that "from a high altitude, a nearby B-52 got the target coordinates and released two of the weapons toward the leading edge of the Iraqi tank column. The entire first third of the Iraqi tank column was decimated. The Iraqis in the back of the tank column immediately stopped and surrendered to the Marines."

The sensor fuzed weapon, or CBU 105, is a high-altitude, high-tech, weapon that can destroy precise targets in an area larger than a football field from as far away as 5 to 10 miles.

Essentially, the bomb uses infrared sensors to locate heat coming from vehicles and laser technology to fire deadly projectiles at specific enemy targets, such as tanks.

The process begins at a very high altitude when an F-16, F-15e, or B-52 gives the bomb its target coordinates. At that point a tactical munitions dispenser, or 1,000-pound truck as it is often called, is released from the fighter or bomber.

Knox described what happens: "The dispensing action happens at a certain point above the target area. Forty cylinder shaped 'skeets' are thrown out. Each of them is equipped with heat-seeking sensors and laser technology. A microprocessor then reads signals from the sensors and lasers to determine what is likely to be a target. The kill mechanism is an explosively formed projectile -- a slug with a copper liner that fires into the target. The projectiles are traveling extremely fast, at several thousand feet per second, so they can pierce the armor of an enemy tank or target."

The Skeets, as they are called, are about 4-inches in diameter and weigh roughly 10 pounds. They spin around in the air searching for enemy targets after being pulled out of the tactical munitions dispenser by a parachute and propelled by a rocket to a higher altitude. Then the infrared sensors detect heat coming from enemy armored vehicles.

Knox explained, "a parachute comes out, and a radar altimeter measures the distance to the ground. When it gets close, it fires a small rocket, propelling it up to a higher altitude making the weapon spin. A laser then helps establish the profile of an enemy vehicle."

The advantages of using a weapon such as this are clear, as it brings an anti-armor close-air support capability from a very high altitude. In many cases, patrolling planes such as an A-10, need to fly much closer to the battlefield in order to acquire targets. The CBU-105, however, can achieve the effect of close air support from high above any potential enemy fire. "You certainly reduce your vulnerability," explains Knox, who said, "You are above the lethal envelope of many of the medium range surface to air missiles."

Knox said, "They say you can halt an invasion with one sortie. The 40 projectiles (or skeets) can cover an area of about 30 acres. A B-1 bomber can carry 30 CBU 105's so it could carry up to 12 hundred potential projectiles."

The weapon was designed and manufactured by Textron systems in Massachusetts.

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