By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON The Pentagon is expanding its arsenal of bunker-busting bombs to knock out suspected programs to make weapons of mass destruction, such as Iran's, interviews and military planning documents show.
The Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which leads efforts to combat weapons of mass destruction, has almost doubled its research spending on how to counter such weapons to $257 million in 2008 from $139 million in 2007, budget documents show.
Its highest-profile project is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bomb designed to burrow deep beneath the earth and detonate more than 2 tons of explosives to breach bunkers.
The Air Force, which plans to test the 20-foot-long bomb this fall on the B-52 bomber, is also exploring how to drop the weapon from the B-2 warplane, said Vicki Stein, an Air Force spokeswoman.
The Pentagon is also buying smaller bunker-buster bombs to meet requests by commanders in the Middle East and Korea.
Air Force commanders sought help from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to examine cave complexes in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan that had been bombed by the Air Force, agency director James Tegnelia told Congress in March. Tora Bora is where U.S. and Afghan troops fought a lengthy battle in late 2001 against al-Qaeda forces allied with Osama bin Laden.
In a related effort, the agency has identified planes with "Angel Fire" spy technology as key to its efforts, according to budget documents. Developed by the Air Force and Marine Corps to counter roadside bombs, Angel Fire technology gives military analysts the ability to zoom in on targets and replay imagery to determine changes over time.
The bomb and spy plane seem aimed at Iran's efforts to build nuclear weapons, says John Pike, director of Producing enriched uranium, the key ingredient in nuclear weapons, is thought to be the focus of a facility at Natanz, he said. Iran has maintained electricity is the goal of its nuclear program.
The Air Force will not reveal specific targets for the penetrator, Stein said. She said there is an urgent need for the bomb "to defeat hard and deeply buried targets" that they can't reach. The bomb is designed to destroy facilities used by "hostile states" to build and store such weapons, their delivery systems and command and control facilities, she said. The request has been made by the military's Central Command, which has responsibility for Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Commanders do not need the huge bomb for an imminent attack, says former Air Force secretary Michael Wynne. Instead, the need for such a large bomb became apparent in Iraq when smaller bombs failed to destroy hardened bunkers buried deep underground by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Angel Fire technology, according to Defense Department documents, allows viewers to zoom in on a target and use a "Tivo-like" function to replay previous events that occurred at the site.
That capability would allow military planners to observe a site like Natanz, Pike said. That would allow them to target workers when they congregated in one spot, such as a housing complex. Killing those workers could set back their program for years, he said.