While covering the Air Force Association’s big conference in Florida last week, I tweeted a comment by Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz where he said in passing that the service is watching Iran very closely. This is typical, I mean, can you tell me any time in the last decade or more that the Air Force hasn’t been watching Iran (does the RQ-170 ring a bell).
However, the general revealed a little bit more during a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday. As our buddy John Bennett reported over at the newly refurbished US News, the service has sent the President “options” on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Iran’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons “has the attention of the [Joint] Chiefs and other national security officials,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told reporters Wednesday. “Our obligation is to provide options” to the defense secretary and the president, Schwartz said, “and we have done that.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that a strike is imminent, it’s the Air Force’s job to be monitoring geopolitical hot spots and to constantly update its plans on how it would conduct operations in them. Plus, Schwartz asked the most relevant question with regards to a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities on Wednesday; what would it really accomplish?
Meanwhile, former STRATCOM boss and vice chairman of the joint chiefs, recently retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright said last week that it will be nearly impossible to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Remember, he was in charge of the nations nukes while at STRATCOM and was the nation’s number two military officer until last summer, so he’s in a decent spot to opine on this.
What might a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuke facilities look like?
Well, it would probably be supported by a mountain of electronic warfare, likely provided by RQ-170 drones and perhaps some classified cyber weaponry designed to kill or confuse Iranian air defense command and control networks from afar. It may then turn to the Air Force’s B-2 stealth bombers, perhaps escorted by F-22 Raptors (insert faulty oxygen system joke here), carrying the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator. A bomb designed to punch through up to 30 stories of reinforced concrete.
But wait, you say, haven’t we heard reports that Iran’s facilities may be buried too deep for even the MOP to hit? Yes, we have. So, the Air Force (or perhaps the Navy using stand-off missiles like the tomahawk) could choose to demolish the entrances to the sites using a bunch heavy bombs (anything from MOPs to 5,000-pound GBU-28s to penetrate the tunnels followed by heavier bombs like the GBU-43 MOAB, a weapon that has been delivered to the Middle East before, or maybe even cruise missiles); entombing the weapons labs and whomever is unlucky enough to be inside them. If we got lucky and hit an access tunnel with something as big as a MOP, the overpressure tearing tunnels caused by the bomb’s explosion might have a shot at damaging the facilities buried inside,but it might not. I any case, these entrances would have to be so thoroughly demolished that it would take a very long time to dig through the debris and access the facilities, otherwise the strikes wouldn’t achieve much.