back to article US Stealth bombers may get nuke-bunker nobbler for 2010

Reports from Washington suggest that the US military is seeking to speed up efforts to deploy a new 14 tonne bunker-piercing conventional weapon aboard its fleet of B-2 stealth bombers. The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) could be used to strike at heavily protected Iranian or North Korean nuclear facilities. Reuters reports …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    fewer bombers will be needed

    From what I've read 617 squadron were very accurate with the earth quake bombs. And in fact slight deviation help undermine foundations.

    I'll get me coat

  2. John Chadwick

    Build a bigger bomb....

    Dig a deeper bunker

  3. TerryG

    Massive Penetrator?

    Oh, God, prepare for a pun overload.

  4. Frumious Bandersnatch
    Paris Hilton

    I don't know how much these babies cost

    but it's obviously money well spent. After all, we don't want the terrorists and lunatic dictators building up a mineshaft gap, now do we?

  5. graeme leggett

    Sounds like...

    They are aiming to get an explosion within the bunker itself rather than achieving an earthquake bomb effect, hence the precision part.

    In the Tallboy/GrandSlam/T12 the desired effect is a massive explosion in the ground near the target. The shockwave is conveyed with great efficiency through the ground* knocking the target about. Or the target falls into the huge hole left afterwards.

    During the last war, Grand slams penetrated the roof of U boat shelters but against the Bielefeld viaduct they knocked its foundations out 100 yds from the point of impact

    *Replace ground with the smothering effect of water and you have the bouncing bomb - also BW's work.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Surgical and painless my a**e

    While the B2 is indeed fairly stealthy when flying low against a radar from the ground it provides more than sufficient cross-section when viewed from below. In order to deploy such a penetrator it will have to fly at near maximum altitude. At that altitude it is a sitting duck. It will be visible on both ground radar and by fighter jet radars. Even something as outdated as an "scrap yard" Mig-23 will deal with it with relative ease. With guns. So any ECM carried by the B2 itself will hardly matter either. The usual modern war approach of "low until target" does not work either, because it has a pathetic thrust to mass ratio resulting in a geriatric climb rate.

    B2's sole meaningful function is "standoff range cruise missile deployment platform" in a cold-war environment. It has no meaningful purpose against any enemy smaller than Russia or China.

    So it will have to go in escorted by fighter escort, ECM, the lot. Same as they did in Serbia. So much for "Stealth". At that point the "old faithful" B52 or B1B are likely to be a better deployment platform.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    FInbarr Saunders icon required!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @Massive Penetrator...

    ...oh, OK then...

  9. Ed 13 Silver badge

    comparatively surgical and painless affair...

    ...unless you are on the receiving end.

  10. Nigel 11
    Thumb Down

    Not nearly good enough

    Unfortunately(?), it's very simple to protect a target from all such weapons. Just put it under a mountain, by driving an access tunnel in sideways, and protect it from blast through the tunnel with a series of massive steel blast doors. Half a mile of rock is nuke-proof.

    The USA knows. Strategic Air Command is under a mountain in Colorado, and was believed to be proof against even the largest multi-megaton nukes in the USSR's arsenal. Fortunately for all of us this was never tested, but there are few reasons to doubt it. MAD: a few thousand men trapped half a mile underground by a few tens of meters of radioactive rubble, not really wondering why no-one is answering their phone or coming to dig them out....

  11. Number6

    Blowing up Nuclear Bunkers?

    So if you've got some uranium or plutonium compounds stored inside the bunker and someone manages to penetrate it and blow the bloody doors off*, isn't that going to result in toxic compounds being released to the atmosphere and harming the planet?

    [*] With apologies to Michael Caine

  12. john 154

    I for one welcome..

    our new nobbler penetrator overlords....shaft 'em all I say

  13. David S

    Surgical and painless?

    I'd love to see these criteria for "surgical and painless" being applied to general medicine. Obviously I'd appreciate a little warning beforehand so that I can step away from the local hospital first...

    The white one, please. With the 5lb reflex hammer in the pocket.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    @AC 12:06

    I can't decide whether you are a troll or just monstrously ill-informed. The B2 actually operates almost exclusively at high altitude, and it was high altitude missions that the stealthiness was designed for. In reality, you don't send any additional aircraft with a B2 because they decrease the likelihood of survival. The B2 is most survivable when it relies wholly on stealth and flies at high altitude only.

    An ex-RAF officer...

  15. Pete 2 Silver badge

    (still) fighting the wrong war

    I used to work with someone who's method of fixing code that wouldn't compile was simply to remove the offending lines. Once they got a clean compile the program was declared "working". This had the desired effect of producing a lot of "fixes" with relatively little effort, while making the lives of the testers, users and anyone associated with the software, a lot worse. As a side-effect it guaranteed that new bugs would be found and more "fixes" needed.

    Now, to change the subject not at all. Let's consider american weapons of war. These usually involve making things with even more destructive power, to remove even bigger imagined threats. What they always fail to do is analyse just why the problem exists in the first place - and then look for possible fixes to the root-cause. Instead, once the target (be it a person, a regime, a bunch of uninhibited caves, or an entire other country) is removed they declare "job done" - until the same or a worse problem reappears later. Meanwhile any innocents caught up in the middle of these operations become either refugees, radicalised or dead.

    Instead of using billion dollar bombers to drop earthquake bombs on people, how about showering them with a clean water supply, reliable electricity, decent infrastructure and stable jobs. It would be far cheaper, more lasting and might even win some friends.

    p.s. Tip: don't test these toys anywhere near an earthquake fault.

    pps. Don't give baddies any ideas about how to trigger, say, an earthquake near a major city.

  16. Edwin


    Don't know if it was amended, but popsci now reads 'used' at the end of the 'biggest' sentence...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to solve deep bunker problem.

    Nigel 11,

    Simple solution to the deep mountain bunker. Bomb the entry, bomb the air vents.

    Bunker becomes tomb.

    Saves burial costs.

  18. Matt 32

    I'm a little slow

    >Instead of using billion dollar bombers to drop earthquake bombs on people, how about

    >showering them with a clean water supply, reliable electricity, decent infrastructure and stable

    >jobs. It would be far cheaper, more lasting and might even win some friends.

    Explain to me how us providing those things to states like North Korea and Iran, which chose to spend their domestic budgets on building nuclear weapons instead of, oh, say clean water, reliable electricity and a decent infrastructure would stop them from making nuclear bombs?

    While capitalism and the economic development that accompanies it is a terrific thing (look at China or India for prime examples of rapidly improving the lives of billions of poor citizens), it is not the be-all, end-all of world geopolitics. It is just one of the tools in the toolbox of advancing liberal western civilization and it's values -- of people and the future -- across the globe. And that is a good thing. It unfortunately needs to be supported by military force when despots will threaten the lives of millions in order to hold their grip on power.

    Our voices have not always been soft enough, while our sticks have not been big enough in recent years. Sometimes we have not talked enough, other times the stick was not wielded with decisive force.

  19. Martin 6 Silver badge

    Clever anti-aircraft statergy

    Pick unused bit of mountain/desert

    Pour a bit of concrete

    Cover with signs saying "secret underground nuclear plant"

    Watch as enemy waste time bombing it.


    Surround with anti-aircraft missiles.

    Blow expensive enemy bombers and pilots out of the sky.

  20. Dave Bell


    The Tallboy was 43.8% explosive, by weight.

    Grand Slam was 41.5%.

    This thing is under 18%, though I'd expect a more powerful explosive.

    And opening the bomb bay doors on a B2 is reputed to do horrible things to the stealth.

  21. Steve Glover 1

    Is it just me, or...

    ...was anyone else expecting the footnote to be "As usual"?

  22. Paul Johnston

    Been there done it!

    The Germans produced something similar during the Second World War for the Maginot Line but were afraid using it would allow the allies access to something which could take out the Siegfrieg Line too.

    Have a google for Rochling

  23. Nexox Enigma

    Sounds like fun

    People seem to be forgetting that the centrifuges in the Iranian bunker will fail spectacularly with any decent vibration introduced to the system, so that earthquake effect would be pretty useful. You could even avoid breaching the bunker itself, to contain the uranium, plus it's doubtful that Iran has managed to produce much plutonium, which is the one to worry about, pollution-wise.

    The weight of this weapon, if I remember correctly, is below the limit on the B2, so they could throw in a couple smaller guided bunker busters targeted on the entrances and vents and similar.

    What'd be really cool, since the underground structure is probably at least a bit of a mystery, and since so much seismic energy will be released, would be to get some seismic sensors into the area beforehand and get yourselves a nice accurate map of what's going on down there. Then again the surface is probably mostly sand around there, which doesn't work too well for transmitting waves, and it wouldn't be terribly easy to sneak seismic sensors into some more consolidated depths of the region.

  24. Aaron Gilliland

    Actually, Nigel...

    SAC lived at Offutt AFB, not under Cheyenne Mountain.

    The More You Know (tm).

  25. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    It's interesting to see the Americans..

    trying to re-invent British ideas of 70 years ago. However, Barnes Wallis's work on this seems to have been completely forgotten, or misunderstood, by a nation which lives by the 'it wasn't invented here' slogan.

    For the avoidance of doubt, Barnes Wallis's theory did NOT involve weapons which penetrated all the way to a deeply buried target (though they could). His weapon was designed to be used in one of several modes depending on the target.

    For soft surface targets, such as railway marshalling yards, the weapon was set to explode at the optimum distance below ground to create a huge and wide crater, designed to be hard to fill in and repair. For large heavy targets such as bridges the weapon was to be detonated somewhat deeper, directly under the target; creating a 'camoflet' - a hole into which the target would drop, as happened at the Bielefeld viaduct.

    For heavily armoured targets such as bunkers, the weapon was set to explode deeper still, so that a strong explosive pressure wave would develop inside the ground and be entirely contained there. Ideally, the weapon would be dropped slightly to one side of the target. The pressure wave would then pass through the target, shaking it heavily and destroying both equipment and the building's structural integrity.

    The only requirement for ground penetration was to ensure that the weapon's explosive charge was fully transmitted to the surrounding medium. The shock wave traversal then did the rest. If you try (as the Americans seem to be doing) to penetrate all the way through to the target, you have to waste much of the explosive payload by armouring your penetrator, thus reducing the 'earthquake' effect. Further, if you explode your payload inside a bunker, the air passages dissipate the shock wave, which will not couple well to the ground. So you only get localised damage, which will be repairable. Note the attack on La Cupole - an impossible dome to breach, yet the whole thing was made unusable by TallBoy and Grand Slam attacks on its foundations.

    I was always amused to see the US SAC hidden under a Colorado mountain, which is indeed proof against air and surface nuclear blasts, but which would transmit buried pressure waves like a bell. It would be interesting to drop a few of B-Ws old 10-tonners from the right height over that mountain - I strongly suspect that they would render the whole complex unusable quite easily. Rock is strong in compression, but quite weak in tension, and the B-W theory made use of this fact.

    If the Americans would try 'clever' as opposed to 'powerful' they might do better. They might, for instance, have created the world's first supersonic car, as oppose to leaving it to a retired British engineer who used brains rather than just raw power....

  26. Mike Hocker

    Reactive Ground Armor

    So now the bunkers will need reactive surface armor plus interceptors-- presuming the big bomb isn't very well stealthed, and of course you know pretty much its target so the cone of target acquisition is pretty small so even the Iranians could make a go of producing an interceptor missile.

    The only thing the bunker owner probably doesn't know with much accuracy is when the supersonic delivery will be made.

  27. Ross 7

    Why oh why?!

    Wow. *More* money?! I don't know why the airforce get to spend so much of our money on toys like this, when it's hardly practical for them to use it.

    The B2 has a cruising speed of 830 km/h, so the bomb will break the sound barrier approximately 25 seconds after being released. Stealth planes tend to fly subsonic when they want to be uber stealthy. A 14 tonne lump of metal going sonic boom 25 secs after you pressed the big red button is going to enable your enemy to determine where you are reasonably accurately.

    Even worse, you also have the problem that the bomb is going to show up on milli wave radar like an effing Christmas tree. There's nothing your enemy can do to stop the bomb, but they can pinpoint where your billion dollar plane was when the bomb was released and have a damned good try at breaking it.

    Why the hell don't they just build a missile they can fly up to about 15-20km before it drops out of the sky and puts a hole in a baby food fac...errr....nuclear research facility. Stick 'em on a boat, use satellite intel to target (it's not like underground bunkers move around that much) and forget about risking flight crew and billions of dollars of high tech gear over enemy territory. It'd be cheaper to boot. But oh no, we need our kewl-laza-guided-bombz footage for the tele don't we?

  28. Denarius Silver badge

    back to the past

    Old idea, even in Not Invented Here Land.

    The defenders of feedom (sic) and Lockheed were planning supersonic bunker busters to be dropped from bomber versions of what became the SR71 in early 1960s.

    Their thinking was a few tonnes of steel arriving at mach 5 when dropped from Mach3 and 80,000 feet would tend to make ones day a trifle difficult due to kinetic energy dissipation alone.

    Idea was canned of course, as the relentless march backwards in capabilites initiated by efficiency and leadership experts become overwhelming.

    See Skunkworks by Ben Rich for few details.

  29. asdf

    B2 what is wrong with AF and military ind complex

    Re: Surgical and painless my a**e, well said and unfortunately depressingly true. Worse is how much the US spent in todays dollars to develop the B2. We could have provided health insurance for that price to many millions of people instead. Secretary Gates is the first defense secretary we have had in a very long time that understands spending money on low tech simple things (bomb resistant personale carriers for instance) can help us win wars much more often than pissing away billions on worthless weapon systems that only exist so politicians can hook up their buddies in the industry in their home towns. Some high tech weapons systems are necessary but far fewer than you think and they tend to be less efficient than the media propaganda machine wants us to believe (see Patriot missles in first Gulf War).

  30. Steen Hive

    @Matt 32

    "Explain to me how us providing those things to states like North Korea and Iran, which chose to spend their domestic budgets on building nuclear weapons instead of, oh, say clean water, reliable electricity and a decent infrastructure would stop them from making nuclear bombs?"

    Search me, guv. However the US spends over 1.5 more percentage points of GDP on it's military budget than Iran does. You say infrastructure should take precedence over defence, I say 46 million uninsured for healthcare would agree.

  31. Mr Larrington


    "So if you've got some uranium or plutonium compounds stored inside the bunker and someone manages to penetrate it and blow the bloody doors off, isn't that going to result in toxic compounds being released to the atmosphere and harming the planet?"

    Very probably. Now, remind me again of the last time the US Military-Industrial Complex actually /cared/ about That Sort Of Thing?

  32. I'm Brian and so's my wife

    @Pete 2

    "uninhibited caves" as opposed to more conservative ones?

  33. Il Midga di Macaroni
    Paris Hilton

    Idiots who can't even spell B-2...

    ... shouldn't try to be clever and criticize it.

    The hyphen is what tells you it's an aircraft. Otherwise it's a banana in pyjamas, and I have no doubt the stealth characteristics of a stuffed toy are worthy of every criticism you can launch.

    Paris because she can't spell B-2 either.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    I can't believe...

    ...that no-one has yet contributed the phrase or saying "somebody set up us the bomb" in these comments.

  35. Bill Fresher


    Why not just put a big trampoline over the bunker?

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