A hat tip to Aviation Week's Sean Meade, who found this Congressional Quarterly article on a looming fight between the Bush Administration and Congress over a planned modification to the B-2 bomber.
According to CQ, the White House has requested an addition $88 million to modify our B-2 fleet, allowing them to drop a "Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, a conventional bomb still in development that is the most powerful weapon designed to destroy targets deep underground." The B-2 funding request was buried in a $196.4 billion war spending proposal that President Bush submitted to Congress on 22 October.
In a statement that accompanied the request, the White House said funding for the B-2 modification project came in response to "an urgent operational need from theater commanders. While the White House, the Pentagon and the Air Force have refused comment on the matter, previous statements from the Defense Department and military experts indicate that the MOP could be used against deeply-buried, hardened targets in Iran and North Korea.
For some Congressional Democrats, the modification request is tantamount to a declaration of war against Tehran.
James P. Moran, D-Va., a senior member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he did not believe the MOP could be used in Iraq or Afghanistan and cited Iran as the potential target for the bomb. He said he would oppose the funding.
“That’s a clear red flag,” Moran said.
Jim McDermott, D-Wash., an outspoken critic of Bush’s war policies, said the funding request was the latest of many signs that indicated Bush was contemplating an attack on Iran. McDermott said such a scenario was his “biggest fear between now and the election.”
“We are not authorizing Bush to use a 30,000-pound bunker buster,” he said. “They’ve been banging the drums the same way as they did in 2002 with Iraq.”
Somewhere, Scoop Jackson must be spinning in his grave. Modifying B-2s to carry the MOP is hardly an indicator of a pending attack on Iran. As the CQ report notes, the weapon is still under development, and it's unclear when it might be ready for operational use. If the MOP follows a "typical" developmental cycle, then figure two or three years--at a minimum--for finalizing the design and testing prototypes. In other words, the massive ordnance penetrator won't be available until the next President is in the White House. So much for next year's "October surprise."
Beyond that, the MOP can be used for a variety of potential targets, not just those in Iran and North Korea. Congressmen Moran and McDermott are apparently unaware that a number of potential adversaries--including China and Syria--have invested heavily in hardened underground facilities (UGFs) over the past 20 years. As the number of UGFs in those countries (and other locations) continues to grow, so does the need for a weapon like the MOP.
And, contrary to Mr. Moran's assertion, the MOP does have a potential role in the War on Terror. The weapon could be effective in targeting Al Qaida cave complexes, like those in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. With its massive explosive power and pinpoint accuracy, the MOP might be used to destroy or seal underground tunnel systems that provide sactuary for senior terrorist leaders.
Thankfully, not all Congressional Democrats are opposed to the MOP, and plans to carry it on the B-2. Washington Democrat Norman Dicks, a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subscommittee told CQ “We need to have this as a conventional weapon. It adds to our deterrent.”
Mr. Dicks understands that without a massive, conventional penetrator, the U.S. might be forced to use other weapons--namely, tactical nukes--in targeting hardened underground bunkers. Taking a wild guess, we'd say that Mr. McDermott and Mr. Moran are probably opposed to that option, too. In confronting potential adversaries with deeply buried facilities, Congressmen Moran and McDermott seem to prefer the "zero option," leaving future presidents with few viable means for targeting critical underground targets.