Thursday, July 2, 2015

Plan B

Politico has an interesting piece on the military options available should the nuclear talks with Iran break down completely. You'll have to pardon my cynicism but a) I'm inclined to think that the Politico story was encouraged by the White House in order to try to scare the Iranians into not demanding our complete and utter capitulation to their demands, b ) I don't see this president allowing those talks to fail even if it means ceding to Iran everything between D.C. and Los Angeles, and c) I can't imagine him resorting to these options if those talks do fail.

In any case, here are some of the salient points of the article:
President Barack Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran may yet fail. On Tuesday, exactly one week before a June 30 deadline for an agreement, Iran’s Supreme Leader delivered his latest in a series of defiant statements, setting conditions for a deal—including immediate relief from sanctions, before Iran has taken steps to limit its nuclear program—that Obama will never accept. Secretary of State John Kerry warned last week that the U.S. is prepared to walk away from the talks. And even if a deal is reached, the story is not over. The Iranians may break or cheat on an agreement, and try build a nuclear weapon anyway.

That’s why, at least three times in the past year, a B-2 stealth bomber has taken off from an Air Force base in Missouri and headed west to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. For these missions, the $2 billion plane was outfitted with one of the world’s largest bombs. It is a cylinder of special high-performance steel, 20 feet long and weighing 15 tons. When dropped from an altitude likely above 20,000 feet, the bomb would have approached supersonic speed before striking a mock target in the desert, smashing through rock and burrowing deep into the ground before its 6,000 pounds of high explosives detonated with devastating force.

“It boggles the mind,” says one former Pentagon official who has watched video of the tests.

Those flights were, in effect, trial runs for the attack on Iran that President Barack Obama, or his successor, may order if diplomacy can’t prevent Iran from trying to build a nuclear weapon. Think of it as Plan B for Iran. The failure of diplomacy might lead the U.S. to turn to a weapon finally ready for real-world action after years of design and testing. The so-called “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” or MOP, represents decades of military research, dramatically accelerated in recent years, focused on the problem of destroying targets buried deep underground.
                                 Massive Ordnance Penetrator

I've stated on numerous occasions on Viewpoint and elsewhere that I believe an attack on Iran would be the second most calamitous course the United States could pursue. The only thing worse would be to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. An attack on Iran may be the prelude to Armageddon. Allowing them to have nuclear devices almost surely will be. It would almost certainly precipitate an arms race in the Middle East and almost certainly result in a nuclear attack on Israel. After a lot of interesting discussion of the development of MOP the Politico article continues:
Imagine that the nuclear talks do collapse. Iran’s Supreme Leader insists that outsiders will never be allowed onto Iranian military bases to conduct spot inspections. John Kerry throws up his hands and flies back to Washington. President Obama issues a grave statement expressing his hope that peace is still possible. Perhaps Iran then begins accelerating its uranium enrichment at Fordow and Natanz, and intelligence reports suggest that Tehran has decided to try and build a bomb faster than the world can mobilize to prevent it. Or perhaps Obama is succeeded in 2017 by a Republican hawk who decides it's time to end the uncertainty about Iran’s program once and for all....

If the order came from the White House, it would most likely summon Whiteman Air Force Base to action. Crews there would load the internal weapons bays of several B-2 bombers with MOPs. The giant stealth planes would then depart for their nearly 7,000-mile flight to mountainous western Iran. By the time the planes actually took off, the mission would likely be old hat to the pilots: A massive flight simulator at Whiteman includes a full-size replica of a B-2 cockpit mounted on hydraulics to mimic flight motion. Its realistic wraparound cockpit computer screen can be preloaded with highly detailed graphics showing the topography and target areas the flight crew would see during the flight, allowing them to practice the bomb run—or even the entire flight—under different weather conditions or times of day.

Once over Fordow at an altitude of 20,000 feet or more, the bombers would release their massive payload. As the enormous bombs fell, they would accelerate to phenomenal speeds of perhaps 700 miles per hour or more. Guided by satellite positioning, flexible tailfins would steer the MOP to a very precise impact point likely identified by the UFAC. The bomb would strike the rock with the tip of its sharply pointed nose. Its supremely reinforced casing would protect the fuse and explosives inside from the initial impact. In effect, a 15-ton, 20-foot nail would pound into the earth at the speed of sound.

Violent as that impact may be, it would hardly be enough to get the job done. The goal is for the MOP to drill dozens or even hundreds of feet through rock before exploding. That is made possible by smart fuses, whose blasts are triggered not by impact but by conditions like time, depth, or the presence of a void indicating that the bomb has broken through an interior ceiling.

Fordow is buried deep enough that a single MOP probably would not penetrate to the centrifuge hall deep inside. That’s why several bombers would likely drop their ordnance in succession, gradually smashing a tunnel of devastation towards mountain’s soft interior. GPS precision would enable several MOPS to be landed on virtually the exact same spot in rapid succession: the most powerful jackhammer in history. “You create a hole and then you drop another one down the hole,” says Long. Ideally, one of the MOPs would break through to the centrifuge hall and completely destroy it. But even short of a bulls-eye, multiple concussions could damage the delicate centrifuge cascades, or even collapse the interior chamber. “Several hitting in the same spot could probably defeat the facility,” Long says.
Let's hope (and pray) this scenario never comes to pass, but let's also hope that if it's the only way to prevent Iran from achieving its ambition to develop nuclear weapons that whoever is the president will have the courage to do what's necessary to prevent what would surely be the first step to nuclear holocaust.