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USAF’s Big Penetrator Needs to Be Harder

by John Reed on January 30, 2012

Yup, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) needs to be harder, according to anonymous Pentagon sources cited in a Wall Street Journal article.

A series of recent tests found that the Air Force’s 30,000-pound tool for penetrating 32 stories of reinforced concrete might not have enough penetrating power to take out Iran’s most heavily protected nuclear facilities, reports the WSJ. This has prompted the Pentagon to secretly ask lawmakers for $82 million to improve the bomb’s penetrating power. The MOP is getting Viagra.

Remember, the Pentagon just spent about $60 million for 16 MOPs that are designed to be carried by B-2 stealth bombers.

While the Pentagon says the improvements aren’t aimed at targeting any one country’s hardened facilities (uhuh, sure), the article reports that these upgrades will allow the weapon to hit some of Iran’s most heavily guarded nuke research sites:

“The development of this weapon is not intended to send a signal to any one particular country,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said. “It’s a capability we believe we need in our arsenal and will continue to invest in it.”

Officials said the planned improvements to the MOP were meant to overcome shortcomings that emerged in initial testing. They said the new money was meant to ensure the weapon would be more effective against the deepest bunkers, including Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant facility, which is buried in a mountain complex surrounded by antiaircraft batteries, making it a particularly difficult target even for the most powerful weapons available to the U.S.

Developing an effective bunker-buster is complicated in part because of the variables, experts say. Penetration varies depending on factors such as soil density and the types of stone and rock shielding the target.

Boeing received a contract in 2009 to fit the weapon on the U.S.‘s B-2 Stealth Bomber. The Air Force began receiving the first of the bombs in September, a time of growing tensions with Iran. The Air Force has so far contracted to buy 20 of the bombs, and more deliveries are expected in 2013, after additional tests are made.

Should a decision be made to use the MOP as currently configured, it could cause “a lot of damage” to Iran’s underground nuclear facilities but wouldn’t necessarily destroy them outright, Mr. Panetta said.

“We’re developing it. I think we’re pretty close, let’s put it that way. But we’re still working at it because these things are not easy to be able to make sure that they will do what we want them to.”

Mr. Panetta added: “But I’m confident, frankly, that we’re going to have that capability and have it soon,”

The decision to ask now for more money to develop the weapon was directly related to efforts by the U.S. military’s Central Command to prepare military options against Iran as quickly as possible, according to a person briefed on the request for additional funds.

 

 

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