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.

Indeed.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    That continues to be my sense of the Administration’s thinking on Iran. They’re dealing with incredibly limited options.

    However, the consequence of our limited options could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

  2. M. Murcek says:

    Stealth delivery systems are not merely “artifacts” of the cold war. Current day high tech sellers of anti-aircraft radar and missiles can sell to anyone, hence the need for stealth. Syria had very high tech Russian made gear in place recently, not that it helped much when the IAF came calling…

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    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.

    Heh. I’m reminded of a friend of mine in college who was absolutely convinced that the reason the U.S. spent so much money on ridiculously high-tech military equipment is because the Pentagon had incontrovertible evidence of a hostile E.T. threat.

    What’s more amazing is that he believed this even when sober.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    Just a question, but what delivery vehicles are there for the new MOP? Is the current deliver to push them out the back of a C-130 (I think it was something like that for the MOAB)?

    Could this be as simple as wanting to put this on the newest weapons platform as opposed to say the B-52 which are being flown by the grandsons of the original pilots of the plane?

  5. Ugh says:

    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 “bomb iran now” club happens to include the sitting vice president, his advisors, and people like Norman Podhoretz who recently had a heart to heart with POTUS (who himself just blathered on about WWII with respect to Iran). So, please forgive those of us who are a little jumpy about the administration’s intentions with respect to “Axis-of-Evil” club member Iran, whether now or anytime until January 2009.

  6. Michael says:

    They’re dealing with incredibly limited options.

    Can someone again remind me why doing nothing in Iran is bad for us?

  7. Triumph says:

    (who himself just blathered on about WWII with respect to Iran). So, please forgive those of us who are a little jumpy about the administration’s intentions with respect to “Axis-of-Evil” club member Iran, whether now or anytime until January 2009.

    Typical liberal distorting the facts. Bush said NOTHING about “WWII.”

    It was World War THREE. And that is what we are going to get if Ahmed Obama-Nejad attains the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb.

  8. Michael says:

    It was World War THREE. And that is what we are going to get if Ahmed Obama-Nejad attains the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb.

    The funny thing is that they already know _how_ to build a nuclear bomb. It turns out that fission bombs are not very complex, Uranium bombs in particular require nothing more than the Uranium itself. They also know _how_ to obtain and purify the fission materials.

    The only thing keeping Iran from having a bomb right now is logistics: getting everything they need, putting it together, and cleaning the fuel. Like everything, their options are fast, good, and cheap (pick any two). If you skimp on quality, you get a fizzle like the DPRK’s test, and with all of Ahmedinijad’s spending on keeping the Iranian poor happy with him, plus the current international attention to Iran’s nuclear projects, he probably can’t divert a large amount of money to it right away, so they’re probably taking the slow good+cheap route.

  9. yetanotherjohn says:

    Curiouser and curiouser. This says the MOP is designed for use by the B-52 and B-2. So this may be nothing more that seeking funds for the second carrier source. Of course, the pentagon may have fibbed about the “urgency” for putting this in the emergency funding bill. Of course if that was the case, it would be the first example of such chicanery in Washington.

  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anyone who thinks making a nuclear bomb is as simple as getting some uranium, and slapping it together is deluded. First one must create an isotope of uranium named U-235 which is unstable. Kind of like the writer who thinks it Iran knows how to make a n-bomb. Little Boy was a uranium device utilizing U-235, not to be confused with U-238 which is stable. The US spent billions of dollars and countless man-hours learning how to make a fusion device. I seriously doubt the Iranians have that technology yet. Though they seem to be seeking it in somewhat of a hurry. For those who think it will be alright if we just leave Iran alone. I refer you to the attitude most of the world had toward the rise of Hitler. Even after he wrote a book outlining his plan. Michael, just review all of what the current President of Iran has had to say. Pay particular attention to his plans for the world.

  11. Dodd says:

    And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly.

    Per Mr. Hayden’s cogent observation, this assertion makes no sense.

  12. Michael says:

    Anyone who thinks making a nuclear bomb is as simple as getting some uranium, and slapping it together is deluded.

    That’s pretty much how Little Boy worked. Two pieces of enriched Uranium, quickly put together to form a sphere of critical mass.

    First one must create an isotope of uranium named U-235 which is unstable.

    You don’t actually create U-235, you remove as much U-238 as possible from natural uranium. U-235 has a half-life of 700 Million years, so it is relatively stable.

    The US spent billions of dollars and countless man-hours learning how to make a fusion device.

    And most of that knowledge is now publicly available. See this list of Uranium enrichment methods.

    I seriously doubt the Iranians have that technology yet.

    Iran already has a facility for enriching uranium with gas centrifuges, a more efficient process that the USA is just now starting to use.

    James: Sorry for all the links, but I wanted to cite whatever seemed relevant.

  13. Gollum says:

    My answer: to justify stealth bombers.

    That might – – might, though I don’t think so – – explain the request in and of itself, but not the “emergency.” I agree with Dave that we won’t be bombing Iran anytime soon, but it seems to me that this is a purposefully public step towards developing a more robust “Plan B.”