The Pentagon is seeking to speed deployment of an ultra-large “bunker-buster” bomb on the most advanced US bomber as soon as July 2010, the Air Force said, amid concerns over perceived nuclear threats from N Korea and Iran.
The non-nuclear, 30 000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which is still being tested, is designed to destroy deeply buried bunkers beyond the reach of existing bombs, Reuters reports.
If Congress agrees to shift enough funds to the program, Northrop Grumman Corp’s radar-evading B-2 bomber “would be capable of carrying the bomb by July 2010,” said Andy Bourland, an Air Force spokesman.
“The Air Force and Department of Defence are looking at the possibility of accelerating the program,” he said.
“There have been discussions with the four congressional committees with oversight responsibilities. No final decision has been made.”
The precision-guided weapon, built by Boeing, could become the biggest conventional bomb the US has ever used.
Carrying more than 5300 pounds of explosives. It would deliver more than 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor, the 2000-pound BLU-109, according to the Pentagon’s Defence Threat Reduction Agency, which has funded and managed the seed program.
Chicago-based Boeing, the Pentagon’s No. 2 supplier by sales, could be put on contract within 72 hours to build the first MOP production models if Congress signs off, Bourland said.
The threat reduction agency is working with the Air Force to transition the program from “technology demonstration” to acquisition, said Betsy Freeman, an agency spokeswoman.
Both the US Pacific Command, which takes the lead in US military planning for North Korea, and the Central Command, which prepares for contingencies with Iran, appeared to be backing the acceleration request, said Kenneth Katzman, an expert on Iran at the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress.
“It’s very possible that the Pentagon wants to send a signal to various countries, particularly Iran and N Korea, that the US is developing a viable military option against their nuclear programs,” Katzman said.
But he cautioned against concluding there was any specific mission in mind at this time.
The MOP would be about one-third heavier than the 21 000-pound (9.5 million kg) GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb dubbed the “mother of all bombs” that was dropped twice in tests at a Florida range in 2003.
The 20-foot-long (6-meter) MOP is built to be dropped from either the B-52 or the B-2 “stealth” bomber. It is designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding, according to the US Air Force.
The suspected nuclear facilities of Iran and N Korea are believed to be largely buried underground to escape detection and boost their chances of surviving attack.
During a visit to Jerusalem last week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates sought to reassure Israel that a drive by President Barack Obama to talk Iran into giving up its nuclear work was not “open-ended.”
Iran says its uranium enrichment a process with bomb-making potential is for energy only and has rejected US-led demands to curb the program.
For its part, N Korea responded to new UN sanctions, imposed after it detonated a second nuclear device, by vowing in June to press the production of nuclear weapons and act against international efforts to isolate it.
Pic: US flag