B-2 Bunker Buster Bombs = Bomb Iran?
A request for modifying the stealth bomber to carry bunker buster bombs has sparked new speculation about a Bush administration plan to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Tucked inside the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is an item that has some people wondering whether the administration is preparing for military action against Iran.
The item: $88 million to modify B-2 stealth bombers so they can carry a newly developed 30,000-pound bomb called the massive ordnance penetrator, or, in military-speak, the MOP. The MOP is the the military’s largest conventional bomb, a super “bunker-buster” capable of destroying hardened targets deep underground. The one-line explanation for the request said it is in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.”
What urgent need? The Pentagon referred questions on this to Central Command. ABC News called CENTCOM to ask what the “urgent operational need” is. CENTCOM spokesman Maj. Todd White said he would look into it, but, so far, no answer.
There doesn’t appear to be any potential targets for a bomb like that in Iraq. It could potentially be used on Taliban or al Qaeda hideouts in the caves along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there would be no need to use a stealth bomber there.
So where would the military use a stealth bomber armed with a 30,000-pound bomb like this? Defense analysts say the most likely target for this bomb would be Iran’s flagship nuclear facility in Natanz, which is both heavily fortified and deeply buried. “You’d use it on Natanz,” said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org. “And you’d use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly.” “It’s kind of strange,” Pike said. “It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn’t think you would want to announce it like that.”
But if you were trying to create Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in order to gain diplomatic leverage . . . .
UPDATE: Dave Schuler weighs in at his place with an even more benign guess:
My answer: to justify stealth bombers. Their utility today is significantly less than it was in the Cold War days—they’re an artifact of the belief that we’ll face a high-tech superpower adversary. But they still have their exponents who are looking around for justifications for having more of them.
But what about the timing? Timing schmiming. This idea has been bandied about since Tora Bora. That it shows up in a military appropriations bill, emergency or not, is more a measure of the persistence of the perception of the need than it is of the imminence of its use.
I continue to believe that we won’t be bombing or invading Iran any time soon which will disappoint members of two very disparate groups.
The first group is the “Bomb Iran Now” club, whose members will take the Administration’s reluctance to bomb as yet another sign of the Administration’s stupidity and fecklessness.
The second group is the Bush Derangement Syndrome folks for whom every current event is an illustration of the vileness of the Administration. I believe that at any given moment the card-carrying members of this hearty band are expecting jack-booted security officers to show up their doors or for yet another country to be bombed out of existence.
Kevin Hayden makes another valid point:
By the time the supplemental gets operational (if it does) and the orders go in for the modified bombers, it’ll be many months down the road. I doubt Iran would even view this as a sabre rattle currently, as it’s negotiating with the IAEC towards a compromise.
More likely, it’s a reminder of a longer term capability should negotiations fail.
That continues to be my sense of the Administration’s thinking on Iran. They’re dealing with incredibly limited options.