Pentagon Orders Massive Bunker-Busters for Underground WMD
(Wired) – North Korea may be readying another nuclear test — one of many reasons why the Pentagon is stepping up efforts to neutralize hardened bunkers, packed with weapons of mass destruction. It’s a tricky problem; to do it, you need something out of the ordinary. Which is why the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency has an ambitious goal of developing a bunker buster five times as strong as the current models by the end of the year, and ten times more powerful by 2013. They’re doing it with a combination of improved guidance, “novel payloads”… and much bigger bombs.
North Korea may be readying another nuclear test — one of many reasons why the Pentagon is stepping up efforts to neutralize hardened bunkers, packed with weapons of mass destruction. It’s a tricky problem; to do it, you need something out of the ordinary. Which is why the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency has an ambitious goal of developing a bunker buster five times as strong as the current models by the end of the year, and ten times more powerful by 2013. They’re doing it with a combination of improved guidance, “novel payloads”… and much bigger bombs.
One key strand is the Integrated Precision Ordnance Delivery System (IPODS), which will destroy targets “far down a tunnel.” How? Rather than simply hitting the bunker, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency is aiming for a small target – those vulnerable blast doors at the tunnel’s mouth. As Danger Room revealed previously, the U.S. Air Force has looked at ’skip bombing’ with bunker-busting munitions to attack tunnel doors using a special guidance system. Instead of hitting vertically, the bomb is skipped off the ground in front of the door and goes through horizontally. IPODS looks like it may take a similar approach, but perhaps using something even bigger.
One interesting thing about the IPODS is the aircraft that will carry it: B-52, B-2 and F-15E , the only aircraft suitable for the most heavyweight munitions. Possibly not by coincidence, it was revealed this week that the Air Force is going ahead with plans to buy the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which should be operational by June 2012. The munition was originally supposed to be ready in 2008, but was held up by lawmakers’ reluctance to fund it. Some suggest that the MOP will be able to go through sixty feet of concrete , though in reality it depends on how strong the concrete is.
However, even if IPODS is delivering a 30,000-pound bomb it may not work against some targets. In 2007, Danger Room mentioned rumors of ultra-hard concrete developed in Iran so strong that it would probably shatter most bunker-busters. DTRA is working on that one too; according to agency documents, activities for the upcoming year include “conduct Ultra High Performance Concrete penetration tests and material analysis” and “characterize and develop defeat mechanisms for ultra-hard target materials.”
DTRA is also planning their own “advanced payloads” specifically for the MOP to destroy weapons of mass destruction. Elsewhere in the agency’s proposed budget for 2010 , the agency describes a range of payloads planned for bunker busters. Explosives are risky against WMD targets, and incendiaries may not destroy the whole facility. One option is a warhead loaded with the rocket balls we looked at last year – technically, “kinetic fireball incendiaries.” These are hollow spheres of rubberised rocket fuel that, bounce around when released — smashing through doors and burning up everything in the facility with their high-temperature exhaust. The latest budget document reveals that tests of the rocket balls were concluded successfully last year, so they may well be on the menu.
Alternative payloads mentioned for attacking WMD include thermobarics, “novel thermal based payloads,” and, perhaps most surprisingly, a “directed energy payload.” (That’s mil-speak for real-life ray guns.) This suggests some sort of electromagnetic pulse e-bomb-style weapon; it is described as “a counter WMD deny/disrupt mission concept. ” Rather than physically damaging an underground facility, this would effectively destroy the power supply and any electronics, leaving it dark, cut off from communications, and with no air circulation. Elevators and fifty-ton blast doors would be operated manually, at best.
Some of the time frames for these projects may seem a bit lengthy – what would happen if trouble with North Korea kicked off next week? But in wartime things can speed up: when existing weapons proved inadequate in the 1991 Gulf War, the BLU-113 bunker buster was prototyped, tested and deployed in two weeks flat.