Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Father of the Mother

Albert Weimorts, Jr. died last week at the age of 67. Even if you don't recognize the name, you may be familiar with Mr. Weimorts's work for the Department of Defense. During a 41-year career as an Air Force civilian engineer, Weimorts helped create some of the most unusual--and advanced--weaponry in the U.S. arsenal.

While Mr. Weimorts worked on a variety of projects during his long career, he is best know for his role in developing the GBU-28 "bunker buster" bomb, as well as the 21,000 pound, satellite-guided Fuel Air Explosive (FAE) weapon, often referred to as the "Mother of All Bombs," or MOAB. It remains the largest non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. inventory, capable of obliterating targets in a one-mile radius through a combination of heat, fragmentation and concussion. Because of his role in the MOAB project, Mr. Weimorts was sometimes referred to as "the Father of the Mother." To date, MOAB has not been used in combat, although smaller fuel air munitions were employed in past conflicts.

Obituaries for Mr. Weimorts also refer to his crash program that created bunker-penetrating weapons for the first Gulf War, noting that his team developed a prototype in only 28 days. By today's weapons procurement standards--when the timeline from drawing board to wrokig model is often measured in years, even decades--Weimorts's efforts were nothing short of miraculous; In an era when the term "bureaucrat" is synonmyous with waste and inefficiency, Mr. Weimorts proved that innovation and creativity are not the exclusive property of the private sector.

What's missing from the "official" bunker buster story is the role it played in our efforts to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Before Operation Desert Storm, U.S. intelligence analysts predicted (correctly) that Saddam would flee to the countryside when the war began, shuttling between hardened bunkers in the Iraqi desert. Taking out Saddam meant developing a weapon capable of penetrating bunkers located sixty feet below the desert surface, under tons of reinforced concrete.

To meet that requirement, Mr. Weimorts and his engineers developed and tested their bunker buster in less than a month, converting an 8-inch Army artillery shell into a guided bomb. Following a a successful test at a range in Florida, a second bomb was quickly assembled in northern California. By that time, the air war against Iraq was already underway; intelligence reports indicted that Saddam was moving around the desert and would stop at a specific underground bunker complex with 48 hours.

In hopes of "getting" Saddam, the recently-completed bunker buster was flown, non-stop, from an Air Force base in California to an airfield in Saudi Arabia by a C-141 cargo plane. When the C-141 arrived, an Air Force F-111 was sitting on the tarmac, engines running. The bomb was quickly off-loaded from the transport plane and uploaded on the F-111, while engineeers briefed the crew on how to best deliver the weapon. The F-111 dropped the bomb on the bunker complex barely an hour later, but unfortunately, Saddam had departed the complex. However, the weapon had worked as advertised, and a new category of specialized bombs had been born.

Upon his retirement in 2003, the Air Force awarded Mr. Weimorts its Meritorious Civilian Service Award and issued a statement, noting that "time and time again, he has put weapons in the warfighters hands and made a difference in the defense of our country." A fitting tribute, indeed.

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