MOP now in USAF Arsenal

Issue: 12-2011By Air Marshal (Retd) V.K. Bhatia

An United States Air Force (USAF) spokesperson revealed on November 15 that the USAF now has a new 30,000 lb (13.6-tonne) bomb in its arsenal designed to penetrate targets buried deep underground. According to the spokesman, Lt Colonel Jack Miller, the USAF had started taking the delivery of the giant bomb called the ‘massive ordnance penetrator’ (MOP) in September this year. The MOP is seen as a weapon made for going after underground bunkers and tunnels in North Korea or Iran. With more than 5,000 pounds of explosives, it can penetrate deep and strike at underground sites hiding weapons of mass destructions (WMDs).

The masive ordnan ce penetrator GBU-57A/B, the latest addition to the USAF’s stockpile of ‘bunker buster’ bombs, is a massive, precisionguided 30,000 lb (close to 14 tonnes) bomb which is substantially bigger than the previously available deepest penetrating bomb, the 5,000 lb (2.25-tonne) GBU-28. The development of the MOP had been initiated as early as 2002, but in between, funding and technical difficulties had resulted in the development work being temporarily abandoned. However, following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when analysis of the sites targeted with GBU-28 bombs revealed poor penetration and inadequate levels of destruction, there was renewed interest to develop a super-large bunkerbuster, giving a fresh breather to the MOP project. The push for accelerated development was due to the increased nuclear threats from the perceived ‘Axis of Evil’ rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. It is an internationally accepted belief that many of their nuclear programmes could be in development underground, much below the currently in use bunkerbuster bombs’ capabilities. Since then, a consortium of defence agencies and air force units, had been working on the project to accelerate the programme.

The MOP bomb has been developed for use against hardened, reinforced targets up to 200 feet underground. The bomb is GPS guided and will be carried by specially modified B-2 stealth bombers for operational missions. Twenty feet long, the bomb is so large and heavy that the B-2 bomber can only carry two at a time in its internal bomb bay. The bomb weighs 30,000 pounds but carries only 6,000 pounds of explosives. Maximum weight is concentrated around the bomb casing. The nose and body of the bomb are made of cobalt alloy material and so designed as to cause maximum ground penetration under its own heavy weight and speed of impact. The explosives detonate after ground penetration rather than upon initial impact delivering the explosive power to the underground target.

It is not that the US did not have similar capabilities earlier but these emanated from bunker-bursting weapons which were nuclear in nature such as the B61-11. The MOP has been developed to address at least two major problems with nuclear weapons. One, a nuclear attack on Iran or North Korea would carry a heavy political and human price because radioactive fallout would spread hundreds of miles from the impact site. Hundreds of thousands of people would be exposed to potentially fatal levels of radiation. Two, significant fallout from a bomb dropped on Iran would drift over Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, thanks to the prevalence of westerly winds in the region. Similarly, a B61-11 drop on a North Korean target could carry the radioactive cloud to the neighbouring South Korea, Taiwan and even Japan. The use of MOP on the other hand, for specific deeply buried nuclear sites and other strategically selective underground targets, with similar capabilities as the nuclear penetration bombs, would be less painful and internationally more acceptable.