WASHINGTON -- The high-tech successes of Operation Desert Storm could trigger a global rearmament race, some military experts believe.
"I think we are going to see a leap in demand around the world for more modern weapons systems, even though there is such a glut on the weapons market right now," said Gregory Fetter, senior defense analyst for the Connecticut-based defense research group Forecast International-DMS.
Laser-guided and television-guided bombs and missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, Maverick anti-tank missiles, ground-attack helicopters -- all of which were featured in TV coverage of the Persian Gulf war -- are becoming available "to anybody with the bucks to pay for them," he said.
It would not be the first time war has stimulated trade in "smart" weaponry; Argentine success with French-developed Exocet missiles during the 1982 Falkland Islands war with Britain had arms merchants clambering to keep up with the sudden demand for the wave-skimming ship-killer.
The makers of "smart weapons" are not only the United States and NATO countries, Mr. Fetter said, adding that such countries as Brazil, Chile, China, Israel, Malaysia and Pakistan were developing their own versions.
A major reason for the diversity of supply, he said, is that in many cases systems such as laser-guided or television-guided bombs are simply refinements of 20-year-old, or older, technologies.
"The war just enhanced their marketability," he said. "It showed they do work. And people -- the arms buyers -- saw right on their TV screens how well they work."
More sophisticated systems, such as the "J-Stars" battlefield surveillance and command aircraft, the Tomahawk cruise missiles and the Patriot air defense system, will be available only to carefully selected customers, he said.
But having demonstrated their efficacy, "pirate" versions could reach the international market in a few years, he predicted.
In spite of the devastating success of the allied bombardment of Iraq, Mr. Fetter said there was no reason to expect land-based weapons to become obsolete.
Instead of doing away with the main battle tank, he said, the United States could be expected to alter the concept of tank warfare by applying "stealth" technology -- the same kind of radar-beating designs used on the F-117 fighter plane -- to the current Abrams M-1A1 tank to make it quieter and less visible to enemy surveillance.
The allies' lopsided victory over Iraq presented "a sober lesson for any Third World country that may want to assert its dominance over its neighbors in areas of strategic importance to the superpowers," said one defense analyst.
But, he said, the supremacy of electronics in modern warfare may prod some of the more powerful semi-industrialized nations to opt for nuclear weaponry to deter attacks.