WSJ: U.S. military seeks more powerful bomb against Iran

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — The U.S. military has made a secret request for additional funding to upgrade its largest conventional bomb because it is not yet capable of destroying Iran’s most heavily fortified underground facilities, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

The 30,000-pounds (13,600-kilograms) Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) is the deepest penetrating ‘bunker buster’ currently in the U.S. arsenal, specifically designed to take out the hardened fortifications built by Iran and North Korea to cloak their alleged nuclear weapons programs.

But experts at the U.S. Department of Defense no longer believe the weapon is capable of destroying some of Iran’s key facilities, most notably the Fordow fuel enrichment plant near the city of Qom. The facility is buried in a mountain complex and is surrounded by anti-aircraft batteries, making it a difficult target.

The U.S. military spent about $ 330 million to develop about 20 MOPs, but the U.S. Department of Defense has now submitted a secret request to U.S. Congress for another $ 82 million to enhance the bomb’s ability to penetrate deeper into rock, concrete and steel before exploding, according to U.S. officials who spoke to the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in an interview with the newspaper, said the bomb could cause “a lot of damage” to Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, but confirmed that it would not necessarily destroy them outright. “We’re developing it. I think we’re pretty close, let’s put it that way,” he said. “I’m confident, frankly, that we’re going to have that capability and have it soon.”

It was not immediately clear if U.S. Congress approved the additional funding, but the fact that the request was made outside the normal budget request process suggests the U.S. government deems the upgrade to be a matter of urgency as tensions between Iran and the West continue to rise. U.S. officials have previously said no option would be taken off the table to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

The mountain above the Iranian enrichment site at Fordow is estimated to be at least 200 feet (61 meters) tall. The MOP is designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding, but factors such as soil density and the types of stone and rock could decrease this dramatically. Some experts believe a tactical nuclear weapon may be the only option to completely take out the facility.

International concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear activities have been increasing for decades. And while Iran has repeatedly stated that its nuclear program is for the peaceful purpose of providing energy, many countries contend it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and may be close to obtain them.

On Monday, the Council of the European Union (EU) announced broadened restrictive measures against Iran by banning crude-oil imports and a freeze on Iran’s central bank assets. As part of the toughest sanctions yet against Iran, the EU also banned imports of petrochemical products from Iran into the EU as well as the export of key equipment and technology for this sector to Iran.

During U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address earlier this week, Obama said the world now ‘stands as one’ to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. “The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent,” he said.

Obama added: “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”

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