The Pentagon is speeding up the deployment of an enormous bomb
designed to destroy hidden weapons bunkers buried deep underground, one
that would be the largest non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
The 13.6-tonne massive ordnance penetrator (MOP) carries about 2,400
kilograms of explosives and is so heavy only one can be carried aboard
a B-2 Stealth bomber.
The U.S. Department of Defence's decision to award the $51.9 million
US contract to Boeing Co. earlier this month signals a renewed
commitment to the weapon, which began testing in 2007 but had
languished for two years because of budgetary issues. It is being
designed jointly by Boeing and defence contractor Northrop Grumman.
The decision to provide further funding suggests the Obama
administration is considering the weapon as part of a long-range backup
plan if diplomatic efforts fail with countries believed to be pursuing
nuclear weapons programs.
The U.S. is currently engaging in multilateral talks with both North
Korea and Iran over the respective nuclear programs of the two
countries. North Korea is a known nuclear weapons state and has
exploded working devices underground, while Iran recently revealed a
nuclear site deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom, though
it says the facility is for energy purposes only.
Rhetoric toned down
Obama administration has been careful not to take military action off
the table against Iran, but has tried to distance itself from the
tougher rhetoric that characterized the previous administration of
George W. Bush.
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, for example, has said a strike is an option he doesn't want to use.
Pentagon officials acknowledge the new bomb is intended to blow up
fortified sites such as those used in Iran and North Korea, but denied
they had any targets in mind.
"I don't think anybody can divine potential targets," Pentagon press
secretary Geoff Morrell said. "This is just a capability that we think
is necessary given the world we live in."
Kenneth Katzman, a specialist on Iran and the Middle East at the
Congressional Research Service, said the weapon may act as a deterrent
down the road.
"It adds to the calculus, let's say, of [Iranian President Mahmoud]
Ahmadinejad and [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il," Katzman said.
The precision-guided MOP bomb is designed to drill through earth and
reinforced concrete before exploding. The bomb is about 10 times more
powerful than the U.S. Massive Ordnance Air Blast — nicknamed the
Mother Of All Bombs — the weapon it is designed to replace.