The Weapon that Disabled Iraq’s Power Grid

In a prior post on EMP, I mentioned that an EMP weapon could have been used to take out Iraq’s power during the Gulf War. It appears that it may have been something much simpler. Meet the “Blackout Bomb”.

According to a 1999 Boston Globe article, “Blackout Led to Weapon that Darkened Serbia”, chaff (strips of metal military planes use to defend against missile attacks) was dropped mistakenly on a power station in Southern California.  The result – the power station was disabled and Orange County’s power supply was disrupted.

This simple technique was turned into a cluster bomb and used first against Serbia on May 2nd 1999. F-117A Stealth Fighters dropped these weapons on Serbia power stations and the lights went out in over 70% of the country. The weapon was used again 5 days later to hinder Serbia’s attempt to restore power.

In the opening days of Desert Storm, modified tomahawk cruise missiles were used against Iraq. The warheads were made up of bomblets that contained spools of carbon fiber wire. The fine wire shorted out power plants and disabled 85% of Iraq’s electrical production capability.

How exactly does this attack work? According to the FAS Military Analysis Network:

The BLU-114/B detonates over its target and disperses huge numbers of fine carbon filaments, each far smaller than the crude wire spools used in the gulf war. The filaments are only a few hundredths of an inch thick and can float in the air like a dense cloud. When the carbon fiber filaments dispensed from the BLU-114/B submunition contact transformers and other high voltage equipment, a short circuit occurs and an arc is often created when the current flows through the fiber, which is vaporized.

The graphite, which is a conductor of electric current, is probably coated with other materials to enhance these effects. At the spot where the electric field is strongest, a discharge is initiated, and electrons rapidly form an ionized channel that conducts electricity. At this stage current can flow and an arc forms. This causes instantaneous local melting of a certain amount of the material at the surface of the two conductors.

If the current involved is strong enough, these arcs can cause injury or start a fire. Fires can also be started by overheated equipment or by conductors that carry too much current. Extremely high-energy arcs can cause an explosion that sends fragmented metal flying in all directions.

Read more about this amazing weapon at


4 thoughts on “The Weapon that Disabled Iraq’s Power Grid”

  1. B52H models that I worked on in 1968 carried “war Chaff” in the dispensers. Specifically, the packed dropped by the aircraft contained chaff targeted at specific radar frequencies. they also had “rope chaff” which consisted of a thin mylar type conductive tape, hundreds of yards in length. This chaff was contained in metal compartment that had a parachute and a timer as to disperse the long piece of conductive “tape” so that it would drift down across high tension power lines to cause power grid failures. B52’s were not allowed to carry this chaff in the CONUS and had to be downloaded from alert aircraft if the was an Operational Readiness Alert (moc invasion on the base) My job was to load aircraft and unload the “war chaff” during ORI’s.

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