Delays in delivery of bunker-busting weapons to U.S. Air Force

Published 23 December 2009

The 14-ton steel pencil – aka God’s Rods — is the ideal weapon for destroying Iran’s underground nuclear weapons facilities; marrying the bunker-busting ordnance to the bat-winged B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber would mean a smaller strike force and fewer casualties in the event of a military action against Iran; it is reported that there are delays in delivering the bombs

Efforts by the U.S. military to equip the bat-winged B-2 “Spirit” Stealth bomber with a huge penetrator weapon, suitable for use against underground Iranian nuclear facilities, have been delayed. The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) is a huge, 14-ton steel pencil (hence the ordnance nickname: “God’s Rods”) containing a relatively small, 2.5-ton explosive charge. Dropped from high altitude, it strikes at supersonic speed with terrific force, punching through many meters of concrete or earth protection before exploding.

Lewis Page writes that very similar weapons — for instance, the British “Tallboy” and “Grand Slam” penetrators — designed by legendary bouncing-bomb specialist Barnes Wallis of Dambusters fame, and termed “earthquake bombs” — were used against hardened Nazi targets in the Second World War. An even bigger design, the colossal 20-ton American T12, arrived too late to see action. The only significant enhancement boasted by the 14-ton MOP over the 1940s models is precision guidance, which should mean that far fewer weapons and bombers will be needed to eliminate a target.

Page notes that in the event of the United States deciding to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program, MOPs dropped from B-2s would seem like one of the least-worst options. The high-flying stealthy bombers would probably be able to penetrate Iranian air defenses without a major battle, and the MOPs would be able to destroy even deeply-buried targets like the uranium-enrichment centrifuge bunkers of Natanz.

The effort to develop the MOP and get it deployed aboard B-2s has been underway for some years now. The U.S. government assigned additional funds to speed things up earlier this year, but Reuters is now reporting that the delivery date has slipped six months to December 2010. “Funding delays and enhancements to the planned test schedule have pushed the capability availability date to December 2010,” Tara Rigler, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told the news agency.

The MOP has been used in successful test drops already, but only from older B-52 Stratofortresses. A raid on Iran by B-52s would probably involve more fighting and casualties than one by Spirits, and Pentagon spokesmen have confirmed that the Stratofortress will not be the operational platform for the weapon.

Some analysts have suggested that less-powerful air forces like those of Israel could mount an effective raid on Iran’s nuclear complex. Such an operation would involve large numbers of aircraft, a tough battle with Iran’s Russian-supplied defenses, serious risks of failure, and certainty of major diplomatic protests — not just from Iran, but also from countries over-flown by the raiders. “The arrival of MOP-armed B-2s on the international scene can be expected to figure large in the deliberations of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when it happens, and perhaps also in the government councils of North Korea,” Page concludes.