Sometimes you come across a problem that you can solve with nuclear weapons but politics simply won’t allow it. Iran and North Korea were and are such problems. Both nation have constructed extremely heavily fortified nuclear facilities. Iran’s Fordow uranium enrichment complex for example, is built 300 feet into a mountain.
With such immense fortifications a standard 5000 lb bunker buster was deemed insufficient to ensure target destruction. The United States needed something even bigger and more powerful to strike these targets.
The Nuclear Option
The U.S already has a nuclear bunker buster for taking out heavily fortified enemy facilities like these. The B-61 mod 11 nuclear bomb was designed for destroying Russian command bunkers during a potential nuclear war. The mod 11 works much like a standard bunker buster. After it’s dropped from a bomber it is spin stabilized by small rockets and gravity pulls it toward the ground. When it hits the target the harden bomb casing penetrates several meters into the ground.
Once it has buried itself deep into the target the bomb detonates. Because it is buried when it explodes, much of the energy is transferred into the surrounding earth. The nuclear blast results in a massive underground shock wave that can destroy a fortified bunker complex. With a variable yield of 0.3 to 340 kt it is potentially 11 times as powerful as the bomb that flattened Hiroshima. The fact that the bomb is buried further increases the effective power of the bomb against buried targets.
Unfortunately for the U.S, nukes have some very big drawbacks. While Wellerstein’s model predicts less than 100 casualties in a 340 kt nuclear strike on Fordow, that isn’t really the problem. Because the blast is still very close to the surface the B-61 wouldn’t penetrate nearly far enough into the target to contain the fallout from the blast. In a worst case scenario, prevailing winds would shower the nearby City of Qom in fallout, irradiating tens of thousands of people.
Even if these effects could be somehow be mitigated or justified there is a huge taboo against nuclear use. No nation wants to be the first in over 70 years to use a nuclear bomb in war or deal with the political and public relations fallout that would also erupt from such use.
The Massive Ordinance Penetrator
To avoid the taboo and political firestorm that would erupt from nuclear use, the U.S decided to develop a conventional bomb that was capable of destroying heavily fortified facilities without irradiating an entire city and inciting the wrath of the international community .
The bomb the United States developed was an a monster. Called the GBU-57 Massive Ordinance Penetrator, it weighs in at 30,000 lb. Once dropped, the bunker buster uses GPS, along with control surfaces to guide the weapon to it’s target. After it strikes the target, the giant bomb’s hardened casing and immense weight allows it to penetrate to a depth of 60 meters. Once the weapon reaches it’s target depth it’s fuse detonates a 5000 lb explosive charge built into it’s midsection.
The massive weapon is delivered by a B-2 stealth bomber. The enormous bomber is capable of carrying two MOPs per bomber. With it’s advanced stealth design the Spirit can penetrate Iran’s air defense systems and deliver the bomb to targets deep within the Islamic Republic.
If negotiations broke down and Iran tried to build a nuclear bomb B-2s would be loaded up with MOPs and sent over Iran. Each strike requires two GBU-57s to be dropped in tandem. Hopefully, the bombs will fall in after one another, allowing them the second bomb to follow the hole made by the first. The end result would hopefully be the destruction of (or severe damage to) the uranium enrichment facility at Fordow and a severe disruption to Iran’s nuclear program.
This scenario of course, did not come to pass. For better or worse negotiations succeeded. But the MOP still has it’s uses. It helps ensure Iran will keep their word because the United States will be ready to strike if they go back on it. In total, 20 Penetrators were ordered. With two used for every mission this means that the United States has enough bombs to destroy Fordow five times over.
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