Medium Potatoes

Over at Hot Air, they’re pointing out a news story that indicates the US might be prepping for an attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It seems that the Air Force wants a whole bunch of “bunker buster” bombs moved from the US to Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean where we have a whole lot of bombers — and is the primary “safe” airbase for strikes in the Middle East. There aren’t a whole lot of places that both have bunkers we’d like to see blown up and relatively close to Diego Garcia, and Iran’s right at the top of the list.

I have my doubts about the story, though. Because I’m a bit of a military buff.

The two bombs specifically cited in the article are the ones the Air Force designates “BLU-110” and “BLU-113.” The author calls the latter a “massive” bomb, weighing 2,000 pounds. Not surprisingly, he got it wrong.

The BLU-110 is a superb weapon. It does what it was intended to do quite thoroughly. But it only weighs 1,000 pounds — that’s about standard weight for a bomb these days. (During World War II, most bombs weighed between 250 and 500 pounds.) It’s a good penetrator for blowing up hardened targets, but only moderately hard targets. Against really, really tough targets, it won’t do much. And Iran’s nuclear bunkers are really, really hardened targets.

Now, the BLU-113 is a bit more serious weapon. It weighs in at around 4,500 pounds, not 2,000, and has a fascinating history. During the first Gulf War, we suddenly discovered we needed a “bunker buster” — and fast. So in seventeen days flat, we went from “we need this” to “we got this.”

Seventeen days.

The GBU-28 (from which the BLU-113 is derived) is an amazingly simple concept that really should not have worked. They took the barrels from 8-inch artillery guns, buried them most of the way in the ground, poured in about 600 pounds of molten high explosive, let it cool, dug it out, slapped fins on the front, a guidance unit and a fuze on the nose, and dropped it off an airplane. And by god, it worked.

Now, the BLU-113 can cause Iran some serious inconveniences they were to suddenly start falling from the sky over their key nuclear facilities. But these “bunker busters” ain’t about to bust the Iranian bunkers — they’ve built them seriously strong. No, to maximize our chances of taking them out, we’d need to use the BLU-113’s big brother, the bomb they call “Big BLU.”

Now, remember that the BLU-110 is about half a ton. BLU-113 is about a ton and a quarter two and a quarter tons. Big BLU is 15 tons of bomb. And the Air Force has only ordered three of them. Maybe. Possibly more. For obvious reasons, they don’t give out detailed inventories of such things.

Now, even Big BLU might not be enough to take out the Iranian nuclear weapons facilities. They might be hardened against anything short of a nuke. And I don’t see Obama ordering a nuclear strike on Iran, even if it could be plausibly spun to the world as a “work accident” by those clumsy Iranians who tried to build a bomb and instead blew themselves up.

So, what’s behind this sudden move of smaller “bunker buster” bombs to Diego Garcia? Beats me. Maybe it’s to threaten Iran’s other, less hardened facilities. Maybe it’s for a possible strike on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal should the situation in that country suddenly go pear-shaped and it looks like Muslim militant fanatics might be on the verge of getting control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Maybe it’s not for a threat against Iran, but an actual strike. Maybe it’s just normal resupply movements, shuffling around inventory to cover possibilities. Maybe some Pentagon accountant had to suddenly burn up a bunch of transportation contract money, or had a brother-in-law who had some cargo ships that needed a job.

What is almost certainly is not is a prelude for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. At least, not by itself. But it’s certainly an interesting development.

They're pulling the wool over our eyes
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