The United States Air Force has received the first of some 20 gigantic 30,000-pound bombs capable of pulverizing underground nuclear weapons bunkers, it disclosed this week. The announcement translates into a not-so veiled warning to Iran to heed western concerns over its advancing nuclear program.
The 20-foot-long bunker-busting bombs, called "Massive Ordnance Penetrators," are produced at a classified facility in St. Louis, Mo. by the Boeing Corporation, and are "five tons heavier than anything else in the military's arsenal," the Los Angeles Times' W.J. Hennigan reported Friday. The Pentagon "has developed and ordered 20 of the GPS-guided bombs," which would be transported on either the Air Force's fleet of B-52 long-range bombers or B-2 stealth bombers, Hennigan noted.
"The Massive Ordnance Penetrator is a weapon system designed to accomplish a difficult, complicated mission of reaching and destroying our adversaries' weapons of mass destruction located in well-protected facilities," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan said in an unusually detailed statement Thursday on its targeting applications, Hennigan wrote.
Though the Air Force took delivery of the first batch of the massive bunker-busting bombs back in September, it only made public note of the acquisition this week, several reports noted.
"Experts took note of the fact that the military disclosed delivery of the new bunker-busting bomb less than a week" after the United Nations' atomic watchdog agency "warned that Iran was secretly working to develop a nuclear weapon," Hennigan wrote. "That country is known to have hidden nuclear complexes that are fortified with steel and concrete, and buried under mountains."
"Heck of a coincidence, isn't it?" GlobalSecurity.org military researcher John Pike told Hennigan. "The military hasn't said what underground facility they need to blow up with this thing . . . . But they've been asking for this weapon for years."
The giant bunker-busting bombs, packed with 5,300 pounds of explosives, are "made to penetrate up to 200 feet of reinforced concrete before exploding" and are "ten times more powerful than [their] predecessor, the BLU-109," Agence France Press reported Friday. They were tested by the Air Force and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico. The total price tag for the contract is reported to be $314 million.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army on Thursday said it, too, had tested a powerful new hyper-sonic weapon, one "capable of traveling five times" faster than the speed of sound, the AP reported.
"The Army launched the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon from the military's Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai [Hawaii] at about 1:30 a.m.," the AP report continued. "The weapon's 'glide vehicle' reached Kwajalein Atoll—some 2,300 miles away—in less than half an hour," according to a Pentagon spokeswoman.
The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon vehicle "is designed to fly long ranges within the earth's atmosphere at speeds that are at least five times the speed of sound," the AP report said. It joins the growing Pentagon arsenal of "prompt global strike" weapons intended to allow the United States "to strike targets anywhere in the world with conventional weapons in as little as an hour."
As the United States withdraws from Iraq this fall and struggles to recover from an economic slump, it's seeking to reassure nervous Persian Gulf and Asian allies that American military power is not poised to be downscaled. U.S. allies are especially anxious about that prospect in the face of potentially aggressive action by Iran, North Korea and a more assertive Chinese military. With this broader context in mind, the Pentagon may be brandishing its new generation of super-bombs with the hope that it may dispense with the actual need to use them.
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