MOP Bomb Deployment Remains A Question Mark!
The U.S. military is speeding up delivery of a colossal bomb designed to destroy hidden weapons bunkers buried underground and shielded by 10,000 pounds of reinforced concrete.
Call it Plan B for dealing with Iran, which recently revealed a long-suspected nuclear site deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.
The 15-ton behemoth — called the 'massive ordnance penetrator,' or MOP — will be the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal and will carry 5,300 pounds of explosives.
News of the giant bomb, which is about 10 times more powerful than the weapon it is designed to replace, comes just days after it was announced that Barack Obama was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Pentagon has awarded a nearly $52 million contract to speed up placement of the bomb aboard the B-2 Stealth bomber, and officials say the bomb could be fielded as soon as next summer.
Officials acknowledge that the new bomb is intended to blow up fortified sites like those used by Iran and North Korea for their nuclear programs, but they deny there is a specific target in mind.
'I don't think anybody can divine potential targets,' Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said. 'This is just a capability that we think is necessary given the world we live in.'
The Obama administration has struggled to counter suspicions lingering from George W. Bush's presidency that the United States is either planning to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities itself or would look the other way if Israel did the same.
The administration has been careful not to take military action off the table even as it reaches out to Iran with historic talks this month.
Tougher sanctions are the immediate backup if diplomacy fails to stop what the West fears is a drive for a nuclear weapon.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates recently said a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would probably only buy time. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen has called a strike an option he doesn't want to use.
The new U.S. bomb would be the culmination of planning begun in the Bush years.
The Obama administration's plans to bring the bomb on line more quickly indicate that the weapon is still part of the long-range backup plan.
'Without going into any intelligence, there are countries that have used technology to go further underground and to take those facilities and make them hardened,'
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. 'This is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one.'
After testing began in 2007, development of the bomb was slowed by about two years because of budgetary issues, Whitman said, and the administration moved last summer to return to the previous schedule.
North Korea, led by Kim Jong Il, is a known nuclear weapons state and has exploded working devices underground.
The United States and other countries have offered to buy out the country's weapons program. The Obama administration is trying to lure Pyongyang back to the bargaining table after a walkout last year.
Iran is a more complex case, for both diplomatic and technical reasons. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claims its nuclear program is peaceful and meant only to produce energy, but the West suspects a covert bomb program that may be only a year or so away from fruition.
'I don't really see it as a near-term indication of anything being planned. I think certainly down the road it has a certain deterrent factor,' said Kenneth Katzman, a specialist on Iran and the Middle East at the Congressional Research Service. 'It adds to the calculus, let's say, of Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il.'
Details about Iran's once-secret program have come out slowly and often under duress, as with last month's surprise confirmation of the hidden underground development site near Qom.
That revelation came a month after the Pentagon had asked Congress to shift money to speed up the MOP program, although U.S. and other intelligence agencies had suspected for years that Iran was still hiding at least one nuclear development site.
The MOP could, in theory, take out bunkers such as those Saddam Hussein had begun to construct for weapons programs in Iraq, or flatten the kind of cave and tunnel networks that allowed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to escape U.S. assault in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2001.
The precision-guided bomb is designed to drill through earth and almost any underground encasement to reach weapons depots, labs or hideouts.
Amid continuing tension over political upheaval in Iran, the U.S. Defense Department says it wants to accelerate production of a 30,000-pound "ultra-large bunker-buster" bomb designed to destroy deeply buried installations.
The Pentagon has requested Congress to provide the necessary funding to ensure that the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a next-generation bomb known as MOP and built by Boeing, would be ready by July 2010, spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Aug. 3.
The non-nuclear weapon will be the biggest conventional bomb the United States has ever deployed. It carries 5,300 pounds of high explosive inside a 25.5-foot bomb casing of hardened steel and would be delivered by the radar-evading Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber. The B-2 can carry two of the bombs.
The GPS-guided MOP is believed to be capable of blasting through 200 feet of reinforced concrete before exploding. It is seen as a potential weapon against nuclear facilities in Iran and North Korea.
It has 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor, the 2,000-pound BLU-109, which carries 535 pounds of explosive.
The MOP is about one-third heavier than the 21,000-pound GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, known as the "mother of all bombs," that was dropped twice in tests at a Florida range in 2003.
Whitman declined to comment on whether the accelerated production schedule was linked to either of those countries' nuclear programs….
Is the U.S. Stepping Up Preparations for a Possible Attack on Iran's Nuclear Facilities?
The Pentagon is always making plans, but based on a little-noticed funding request recently sent to Congress, the answer to that question appears to be yes.
First, some background: Back in October 2007, ABC News reported that the Pentagon had asked Congress for $88 million in the emergency Iraq/Afghanistan war funding request to develop a gargantuan bunker-busting bomb called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP). It's a 30,000-pound bomb designed to hit targets buried 200 feet below ground. Back then,the Pentagon cited an "urgent operational need" for the new weapon.
Now the Pentagon is shifting spending from other programs to fast forward the development and procurement of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The Pentagon comptroller sent a request to shift the funds to the House and Senate Appropriations and Armed Services Committees over the summer.
The comptroller said the Pentagon planned to spend $19.1 million to procure four of the bombs, $28.3 million to accelerate the bomb's "development and testing", and $21 million to accelerate the integration of the bomb onto B-2 stealth bombers.
'Urgent Operational Need'
The notification was tucked inside a 93-page "reprogramming" request that included a couple hundred other more mundane items.
Why now? The notification says simply, "The Department has an Urgent Operational Need (UON) for the capability to strike hard and deeply buried targets in high threat environments. The MOP is the weapon of choice to meet the requirements of the UON." It further states that the request is endorsed by Pacific Command (which has responsibility over North Korea) and Central Command (which has responsibility over Iran).
The Pentagon did not name Iran in citing an "urgent operational need" for the weapon. But military analysts see Tehran's nuclear facilities, including the newly disclosed and deeply buried installation near the city of Qom, as the prime impetus for a laser-guided bomb with a capacity to penetrate and plunder targets 60 metres underground.
U.S. Congress approved an additional $64 million for the procurement of four such MOPs, which, if dropped sequentially on the same co-ordinates, could alter a military equation that has long vexed U.S. and Israeli planners.
But the issue remains fraught with questions that even a bomb as big as this is unlikely to answer, experts on the Iranian file agree. And most categorize the new bomb as a remote, and thus far unproven, fallback plan that simply fills out the suite of options for a global effort to secure a peaceful compromise.
"The possibility of a military attack is not high, but anyone who thinks it is zero would be mistaken," said political analyst and author Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based scholar born and raised in Iran. "The best hope remains that the Iranian leadership will see the peaceful deal that Obama is presenting: Iran can have nuclear energy and excellent relations with the West," said Javedanfar, director of www.middleeastanalyst.com.
"If they go the other way and decide to hunker down in the face of sanctions and continue to strive for a nuclear weapon, it will be terrible for the Iranian people. A few years from now the regime could resemble Pakistan – poor, unstable, isolated but having the bomb. And as we see in Pakistan, having a nuclear weapon does nothing for the people. This is not the legacy that the Iranian leaders want."
A ground war over the issue has never been more than an extremely remote possibility, not least because the U.S. has neither the blood nor the treasure to expend after nearly a decade of mobilization on the dual fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan. And military analysts are quick to point out that the new MOP bomb, even if it could reach its assigned target, would almost certainly destabilize the region in risky and unpredictable ways, with a more deeply isolated Iran in a position to retaliate by proxy, possibly by feeding insurgencies in the wars that flank its eastern and western borders.
Israel, which continues to cling to a strategy of nuclear ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying the existence of what is understood to be a fully developed nuclear weapons program, has lately tamped down talk of a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Analysts there say the latest developments, including an emerging international consensus for hard sanctions if soft diplomacy fails, has all but assured Israel will not act militarily on its own.
"It is now almost impossible for Israel to carry out military strikes against Iran without American consent," said Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
"Even in light of this new American bomb, which remains unproven and still under development, we are in a delicate moment where there is a growing international consensus toward the threat of harsh sanctions to persuade Iran the price of building a bomb is just too high," Kam told the Star.
"We should know by the end of the year how Iran intends to play this. But the bottom line (is) that the military option moves farther back as the chances of strong sanctions grow."
But in a conflict where big overtures and big threats go hand in hand, the development of bigger bombs are seen by many as inevitable, if only as a measure of additional deterrence.
"All of these pieces are interconnected, from the building of international consensus for sanctions to the gathering of better intelligence on the ground to the development of new military options," said Javedanfar.
"The Bush era is behind us, and clearly the Americans no longer feel the only solution lies in threats and military force. But just as clearly, the Obama era will not be one where the Iranians can delay and delay indefinitely. There is a compromise on the table that I really hope comes together. In the next few months we should know."