US Navy photo of bombs with Blu-117 warheads (from WikiMedia Commons)
The internet is buzzing about this report on heraldscotland.com, where we find that large, "bunker buster" bombs are being shipped from Concord, California to a base on the island of Diego Garcia. The report claims the bombs are intended for immediate use in an attack on Iran. An alternate explanation would be that the bombs are meant to increase pressure on Iran to prevent enrichment of uranium to weapons grade.
Here is how the article opens:
Hundreds of powerful US “bunker-buster” bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.
The Sunday Herald can reveal that the US government signed a contract in January to transport 10 ammunition containers to the island. According to a cargo manifest from the US navy, this included 387 “Blu” bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.
The article is receiving a lot of attention because of this quote it contains:
“They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran,” said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, co-author of a recent study on US preparations for an attack on Iran. “US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours,” he added.
The key portions of the cargo are 195 Blu-110 bombs (at 1000 pounds each) and 192 of the even larger, 2000 pound Blu-117 bombs, as seen in the Navy photo above.
Although I’ve seen unconfirmed rumors that the bombs arrived at Diego Garcia yesterday, note that the shipping contract was signed in January. Shipping our largest existing bunker busters in January fits with this article from the New York Times and this report from Reuters.
First, the Times article (from January), which deals mostly with an explanation that Iran has engaged in hiding its nuclear facilities underground, but has this very interesting statement almost in passing:
Now, with the passing of President Obama’s year-end deadline for diplomatic progress, that cloak of invisibility has emerged as something of a stealth weapon, complicating the West’s military and geopolitical calculus.
Couple the passing of Obama’s diplomatic deadline with this Reuters report from December on our development of even larger bunker buster bombs:
A "bunker buster" bomb with more than 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor will be put into service by the United States next December, six months later than previously scheduled, the U.S. Defense Department told Reuters on Friday.
Here is how Reuters previously characterized the new bomb:
The Pentagon is seeking to speed deployment of an ultra-large "bunker-buster" bomb on the most advanced U.S. bomber as soon as July 2010, the Air Force said on Sunday, amid concerns over perceived nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran.
The non-nuclear, 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, which is still being tested, is designed to destroy deeply buried bunkers beyond the reach of existing bombs.
Carrying more than 5,300 pounds of explosives. it would deliver more than 10 times the explosive power of its predecessor, the 2,000-pound BLU-109, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which has funded and managed the seed program.
So, with Obama’s diplomacy deadline passing and the deployment date for the MOP delayed for almost a year past that deadline, it would make sense for him to put into place the current largest ordnance designed for underground targets.
Getting back to the Times article, we see the difficulties brought about from the Iranian facilities being underground:
“It complicates your targeting,” said Richard L. Russell, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst now at the National Defense University. “We’re used to facilities being above ground. Underground, it becomes literally a black hole. You can’t be sure what’s taking place.”
Even the Israelis concede that solid rock can render bombs useless. Late last month, the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, told Parliament that the Qum plant was “located in bunkers that cannot be destroyed through a conventional attack.”
Heavily mountainous Iran has a long history of tunneling toward civilian as well as military ends, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has played a recurring role — first as a transportation engineer and founder of the Iranian Tunneling Association and now as the nation’s president.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of big tunnels in Iran, according to American government and private experts, and the lines separating their uses can be fuzzy. Companies owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, for example, build civilian as well as military tunnels.
For a full appreciation of the folly of this very expensive cat and mouse game, where Iran is building multiple facilities buried deeper and deeper underground, while the US develops larger and larger bombs designed to reach ever deeper targets, one needs to see just how far away from a nuclear weapon Iran’s technology is today (caution, FoxNews link):
The internal International Atomic Energy Agency document was significant in being the first glimpse at Iran’s plan to enrich uranium to 20 percent that did not rely on statements from Iranian officials.
Iran says it wants to enrich only up to that grade — substantially below the 90 percent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads — as a part of a plan to fuel its research reactor that provides medical isotopes to hundreds of thousands of Iranians undergoing cancer treatment.
That report, of only a small amount of uranium being enriched to 20% (where Iran’s previous best was only 5%), was from February. It’s hard to see how that capability is anywhere near the large amounts of 90% enrichment needed for weapons. With Iran so far away from real nuclear weapon development and with the targets so hard to discern and destroy, it’s hard to imagine that Obama and the military really intend to attack now. This movement of bunker busters looks to me like just another move in the childish games Iran and the US are playing with one another.