Friday, November 18, 2005

Jason on White Phosphorus 
Crossposted from the comments section from this thread at Balloon Juice. It was directed at some of the commenters on that board, but I would also apply it to the majority of the media "professionals" who've tried to cover the controversy:

Ah, the stupidity continues.

It has already been established that WP is not a chemical weapon. It is not classified as such, and as an incendiary used for marking and screening, it is specifically exempted from regulation as a chemical weapon.

The fact is that the vast majority of commenters critical of the use of WP have no standing whatsoever to second guess the actions of the commanders on the ground or their FOs who are actually selecting the ordnance.

WP is a standard round, used for marking, screening, and setting fire to flammable targets. It is precisely what it is designed to do.

With any Fire for Effect mission, particularly at night, the marking rounds and possibly the first salvo on the target would be WP rounds, because they are easier to observe than HE rounds. Using WP, which has a much smaller lethal radius, allows you to adjust rounds onto the target without using HE. Using WP, then, actually reduces collateral damage, and reduces the likelihood of injury to noncombatants, in this way.

Theoretically, you could use smoke rounds, too…but a short smoke round would obscure the observer’s view of the target, and would not be observable at night anyway. So you’re back to WP.

The vast majority of the carpers here, however, are too mired in their own outraged ignorance to grasp the doctrine and how WP is used on the battlefield.

WP rounds are also useful in marking a battlefield for fixed-wing close air support aviators. They may not understand “don’t fire south of Haifa Street.” But they can understand “See these two WP bursts? Fire up north of the line between them. There are friendlies to the south.”

You would also use WP to set fire to a building in order to force insurgents to flee…thus exposing themselves to the effects of HE. (It has the added effect This is the purpose of the “shake and bake” mission, which uses a combination of WP and HE ordnance.)

This is what the ordnance is designed for. This is why we carry it into battle.

Shake and bake has been an authorized technique in the artillery world for decades. The fact that the daisyshuckers and handwringers on the left don’t realize that simply underscores that they bring no understanding to the topic. They are simply not qualified or prepared to have an informed debate.

Nor are they able to coherently discuss the ethics of using WP ordnance, because they are still making the false and wholly ignorant claim that WP “fumes” “caramelize skin.”

(If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. But I can’t, because it’s against ethical practices for a real estate agent to exploit the mentally handicapped.)

Anyone who is still hung up on the caramelization lie, or is claiming that WP burns flesh but leaves clothing intact, is simply too stupid to bother with, and frankly does not know enough about the effects of ordnance to create a foundation for informed discussion.

Finally, there’s a further subset of drooling idiots who are trying to claim that they have no beef with the soldiers – only the commanders who authorized the use of WP.

But the fact is that it is 23-28 year old observers – 2nd lieutenants and sergeants, who are selecting and calling for the ordnance. Those are the people on the ground, who are taking the most direct risks. The round of choice for any given fire mission is not determined by Donald Rumsfeld.

Our artillery spotters are among the best and most highly educated in the world. Sorry, the commenters on balloon-juice simply don’t have the professional standing or fund of information to second-guess the professional judgement of our soldiers on the ground.

And the fact that you chuckleheads don’t realize who it is that selects these rounds – thinking, I suppose, that fire missions are planned and coordinated by Dough Feith at the Pentagon – simply further underscores the depths of your own incompetence to even discuss the matter with professionals.

Again, you are ignorant of the tactical situation on the ground. You are ignorant of doctrine. You are ignorant of fire control procedures. You are ignorant about the ordnance. You are ignorant about every single thing it would take to illuminate a rational discussion of the use of WP or other weapons in Fallujah.

Splash, out


I think the Credo of the Leftist Believer is, "We hate America because it is not perfect." (Think about that viz a viz adolescents and parental figures. For Ecoterrorists and Radical Environmental Wackos, the doctrine of Faith is, "The solution to bad use is no use." For things military, the Creed becomes, "One misuse disallows all further use." These articles of Faith place them beyond all reason or argument. Inconsistencies and contradictions are simply ignored. The AA "Admitted to myself that I was powerless to change alone" might be palliative, but I'm not holding my breath or taking any bets. I suspect the infection must take its course. Dreadful that the infection seems chronic and the incubation period so extended.
Any non-combatants killed may have been hostages.

From today's Washington Times:

Gruesome methods
A Marine Corps statement on the fighting to clear towns of insurgents along the Syrian border provided a window into how the enemy seizes the homes of civilians, rather than being welcomed as liberators.
In the town of Husaybah, foreign terrorists forced their way into a home and killed two occupants. The al Qaeda insurgents locked the rest of the family in a room and then used the home to launch attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The coalition called in air strikes, which destroyed the home. The Marines said they did not know the insurgents were holding hostages. Two Iraqi civilians were found alive and were taken for medical treatment.
"Insurgents used home invasion tactics extensively during Operation Spear last June in the nearby city of Krabilah," the Marine statement said. "Insurgents violently entered homes and used women as human shields to prevent Marines from returning fire."
All the voodoo stories about WP are just that. Voodoo Stories. You are telling me that in 70 years of battlefield use this is the first time anyone has ever seen soldiers' skin 'caramelized' and 'burnt to death from inside the lungs' before from this 'chemical weapon'? Notice the maggots and desiccation in those photos/video? That’s what bodies do when they sit outside in the heat for a while. Has nothing to do with ‘chemical weapons caramelizing’ or anything else of the sort. I agree Jason. They are talking about something they have no effing clue about.

One of the primary assertions I hear running around in the leftosphere right now is that 'since the humidity was so low, the WP wouldn't convert all the way to phosphoric acid, and would remain Phosphorus Pentoxide, which reacts violently when exposed to the human body and its humidity. They posit things like "multiple bursts of WP in an urban area would result in exposure to large concentrations of fine Phosphorus Pentoxide particles," supposedly creating ‘internal burn injuries and skin caramelizing, yet they provide no links or any proof of that assertion that

A) some derivative of weaponized WP can actually do what they claim, that is in its usual use, WP even has enough concentation of P4O10 post reax to cause 'severe burns' as a vapor.


B) that the humidity in Fallujah was low in the first place.

Well that got me to digging a little bit.

Let’s take the hypothesis that ‘in low humidity conditions WP wouldn’t convert very fast to phosphoric acid’ and run with it for a bit. When WP is exposed to air at a certain temperature/humidity point, it self-combusts, breaking down into Phosphorus Pentoxide. P4O10, or phosphorus pentoxide, the intermediary byproduct of WP combustion, is extremely hygroscopic (actually Deliquescent). It is often used as a drying agent to suck all available moisture out of packaging. As such it is very aggressive at pulling moisture out of the air. It wouldn’t take much residual atmospheric humidity to transform it down (very quickly) to lower phosphate forms quickly -- any residual that wasn’t BURNE, that is (P4O10 is fairly flammable too).

From wikipedia:

“However phosphorus pentoxide is extremely hygroscopic (deliquescent) and quickly absorbs even minute traces of moisture to form liquid droplets of phosphoric acid”

‘Minute Traces’ means ‘even in very low humidity conditions’ so that puts their position at a bit of a problem, even if the humidity was relatively low. If you had one of the shells fall on your head you might be able to ingest enough P4O10 before it converted. But frankly you’d have bigger issues anyway, and it wouldn’t ‘burn your skin and leave your clothes’ as this RIA article suggests. The leftosphere, and the article, are positing that the WP rounds created a ‘deadly cloud’ similar to mustard gas. In 70 years of battlefield use, if this were the case, they should be able to show other similar battlefield cases of this happening. However, historical battlefield use just doesn’t seem to support their premise.

Continuting from wikipedia:

“Since an atom of phosphorus has an atomic mass of 31 but a molecule of phosphoric acid has a molecular mass of 98, the cloud is already 68% by mass derived from the atmosphere. (To put that another way, you have 3.2 kilograms of smoke for every kilogram of WP you started with.) But it can still absorb more; phosphoric acid itself and the various polyphosphoric acids are hygroscopic. Given time, the droplets will continue to absorb more water, growing larger and more dilute, until they reach equilibrium with the local water vapour pressure. In practice the droplets quickly reach a range of sizes very suitable for scattering visible light, and then start to dissipate due to wind or convection.”

In other words, when you have a visible ’cloud’ created by WP, over 60% of the mass of that cloud is oxygen derived by the reaction with water in the air. P4 + 5O2 -> P4O10. For the primary reaction to occur, there must be sufficient H2O in the air for WP to react in the first place, and if there is sufficient H2O in the air to start the reaction, then there is sufficient H2O in the air to also breakdown P4O10, especially, as we will see, in the prevailing conditions around Fallujah on Nov 11, 2004. Also, in reality there are a lot of secondary and tertiary reactions going on along side the primary conversion from P4-> P4O10 via the burning, and whatnot. Essentially, when you get that white, fluffy cloud, that WP is known for, it is already largely hydrolyzed into phosphoric acid vapor, which is classified as a ‘weak acid.’

Again, their major assertion seems to be that the humidity was low, therefore the reax wouldn’t take place quickly and there would be a large amount of airbourne P4O10 hanging around. As we’ve seen, even in ‘minute traces’ of humidity in the air, WP and P4O10 react quickly and easily to break down into lower phosphor compounds so their claim seems bogus. Even in a ‘desert’ condition, there is still usually a decent amount of humidity in the air.

However fact is humidity near Fallujah at that time was not low. It was relatively high. In fact, Nov 8, 2004 there were “Light Rain Showers” in Baghdad at about the time the battle started. The area was ‘Overcast and Cloudy’ for the next several days, off and on.

Fallujah is 35 miles west of Baghdad. Average humidity on Nov 8, 2004 in Baghdad was 66%. At its lowest point in the day, it was 39%. Battle began at 7PM Iraq time. Humidity then was 61%, and only got higher as the night went on. Their whole hypothesis turns on the false assertion that there was very low humidity. We can reliably presume I think, by location, that conditions were at least somewhat similar in Fallujah.

The events on the RIA film supposedly happened on Nov 10, 2004. The humidity never got below 39% on the 10th, and seeing that the film seems to have been taken at night, we can assume that it wasn’t ‘daytime’ which is when the lowest humidity is (which at its lowest was still around 40%). Sunset on the 10th was at 5:04pm AST (44% humidity). ‘Twilight’ was around around 5:30. Humidity at that time was up to around 50%. But even 39% is plenty of residual humidity for an ‘extremely hygroscopic’ agent like P4O10 to react.

Frankly the facts do not support their assertion at all.

Weather Data:
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