According to ABC News, the U.S. may be stepping up preparations to bomb Iran. But we have our doubts.
Correspondent Jonathan Karl reports that the Pentagon is shifting resources from other programs to speed development of the so-called Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a weapon that went into development just two years ago.
Dropped by a B-2 bomber, the 30,000 pound bomb is designed to take out deeply-buried and hardened facilities--like Iran's recently-disclosed uranium processing facility near Qom. When the project was first announced in 2007, the Defense Department said it had an "urgent need" for a weapon that could target such facilities.
Now, the MOP program has taken on an even greater urgency. In a budget "reprogramming" request submitted earlier this year, DoD asked Congress to transfer almost $70 million from other accounts, to accelerate development of the bunker-buster bomb, designed the GBU-57A/B. That total includes $19.1 million to buy four of the weapons; $28.3 million to accelerate the bomb's development and testing, and $21 million to integrate the weapon into the B-2 bomber fleet.
But that doesn't mean a stealth bomber will be dropping a MOP on the Qom facility (or Iran's primary enrichment complex at Natanz) any time soon. Production, integration and testing take time, even on an accelerated timeline. Defense Industry Daily recently reported that the program is about 10 months behind schedule, because of problems associated with bomb racks on test aircraft.
Apparently, the MOP is so big that the racks had to be redesigned to accommodate the weapon. With that problem now solved, contractors will conduct test drops from B-52s, before final integration on the B-2. Each stealth bomber will be capable of carrying two of the massive weapons.
At this point, it's hard to say when the giant bomb will be available--though the additional funding is clearly aimed at compressing the development process. And, it's worth remembering that ordnance programs can sometimes achieve operational status in relatively short order.
In the run-up to the first Gulf War, Air Force engineers quickly converted a 8 inch artillery shell into a guided bomb, aimed at destroying bunkers used as a hideout by Saddam Hussein. After only a few weeks of development, a prototype weapon was declared ready for action and flown, non-stop, from McClellan AFB, California, to Taif AB, Saudi Arabia, where deployed F-111s were stationed.
Acting on fleeting intelligence, the weapon was off-loaded from a C-141 transport and mounted on an F-111 that was preparing to launch. The crew got a final brief on employing the bomb as they sat in the cockpit and took off moments later, heading for a location where Saddam was reportedly hiding. A short time later, the F-111 crew dropped the bomb, which destroyed the bunker. Unfortunately, Saddam wasn't at home, but the weapon worked as advertised.
However, we are not predicting a similar scenario for the MOP, for one very important reason. Employment of the weapon relies on the willingness of political leaders to use it, even against "political" targets. So far, the Obama Administration has shown no willingness to use this type of bomb on something like Iran's nuclear facilities--or the leaders who built them--although the White House has increased the use of missile strikes against terror leaders. Under the right circumstances, we can only hope the Commander-in-Chief would show similar resolve in using the massive bomb to target the Iranian threat.
It's also worth remembering that the "crash" MOP effort is designed (in large measure) to fill a gap in our arsenal. Currently, our biggest bunker buster is the GBU-28, which weighs in at "only" 5,000 pounds. And, with the termination of a nuclear penetrating weapon program, MOP becomes our best option--one that must be developed quickly.