USAF’s Big Penetrator Needs to Be Harder

Yup, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) needs to be harder, according to anonymous Pentagon sources cited in a Wall Street Journal article.

A series of recent tests found that the Air Force’s 30,000-pound tool for penetrating 32 stories of reinforced concrete might not have enough penetrating power to take out Iran’s most heavily protected nuclear facilities, reports the WSJ. This has prompted the Pentagon to secretly ask lawmakers for $82 million to improve the bomb’s penetrating power. The MOP is getting Viagra.

Remember, the Pentagon just spent about $60 million for 16 MOPs that are designed to be carried by B-2 stealth bombers.

While the Pentagon says the improvements aren’t aimed at targeting any one country’s hardened facilities (uhuh, sure), the article reports that these upgrades will allow the weapon to hit some of Iran’s most heavily guarded nuke research sites:

“The development of this weapon is not intended to send a signal to any one particular country,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said. “It’s a capability we believe we need in our arsenal and will continue to invest in it.”

Officials said the planned improvements to the MOP were meant to overcome shortcomings that emerged in initial testing. They said the new money was meant to ensure the weapon would be more effective against the deepest bunkers, including Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant facility, which is buried in a mountain complex surrounded by antiaircraft batteries, making it a particularly difficult target even for the most powerful weapons available to the U.S.

Developing an effective bunker-buster is complicated in part because of the variables, experts say. Penetration varies depending on factors such as soil density and the types of stone and rock shielding the target.

Boeing received a contract in 2009 to fit the weapon on the U.S.’s B-2 Stealth Bomber. The Air Force began receiving the first of the bombs in September, a time of growing tensions with Iran. The Air Force has so far contracted to buy 20 of the bombs, and more deliveries are expected in 2013, after additional tests are made.

Should a decision be made to use the MOP as currently configured, it could cause “a lot of damage” to Iran’s underground nuclear facilities but wouldn’t necessarily destroy them outright, Mr. Panetta said.

“We’re developing it. I think we’re pretty close, let’s put it that way. But we’re still working at it because these things are not easy to be able to make sure that they will do what we want them to.”

Mr. Panetta added: “But I’m confident, frankly, that we’re going to have that capability and have it soon,”

The decision to ask now for more money to develop the weapon was directly related to efforts by the U.S. military’s Central Command to prepare military options against Iran as quickly as possible, according to a person briefed on the request for additional funds.



  • blight

    If you drop an MOP from 50,000 feet and it isn’t powerful enough…hum.

    Is the matter developing a rugged explosive that still works after being dropped from high altitudes and and into deep objects? I can imagine an explosive device being asked to work after being dropped into a mountain is its own technical hurdle.

    Hurdle two is developing materials that can penetrate deeply into earth or reinforced concrete, or both in great quantity.

    Hurdle three is increasing the explosive power that can be carried in a payload that fits within the bomb bay of the standard Air Force bomber.

    Wonder if at some point we will just develop a massive UAV to remotely fly into the target. Or maybe a large flying bomb with a small manned parasite aircraft that detaches before the terminal stage. Why be limited by the interior of a bomb bay? Get crazy!

    • STemplar

      Strap gophers on the front to dig?

    • BravoPapa

      Like, maybe, an ICBM?

    • Mastro

      Time delay fuses aren’t all that – the Germans had good ones at the Battle of Jutland- the British didn’t

      The problem is making a casing that will stay in one piece as it impacts granite from 50,000 ft (probably 30)

      They used to use artillery barrels- I wonder what they have here- Titanium?

  • Tim

    Even if it could not penetrate the complex, just the collapsing of the entrance/exit(s) or air/supply intake is enough to destroy the facilities or render them inaccessible for a while.

    They are not making them harder… They are making more of them… Muh huh huh… :)

  • Insert sexual innuendo here…

  • Mauler

    Why not rocket-assist the final phase of flight before impact for greater kinetic force?

  • Copper

    Or we could just drop two in – one after the other

    • Demon

      That’s what I was thinking. If they don’t go deep enough, just have them keep hitting the same spot until you see an unusual cloud of smoke!

    • derekcrane

      I am not in the military but I am in construction and demolition. If one wack from a sledge doesn’t do the job, another in the same spot will usually do it.

    • Jason

      Bingo. That’s what we do with our current crop of penetrators, the GBU-31V3, when a singleton won’t do the job.

    • blight

      What is the CEP of MOP? Probably not enough to drop a bomb directly on top of, and right after a previous MOP.

      Tandem warhead MOP might work though…

  • STemplar

    How about we hire the super assassin on the motorcycle with the magnetic mines to take care of it?

  • Nicky

    Either that or we need to start building some Conventional ICBM MOP

  • Jacob

    “”The development of this weapon is not intended to send a signal to any one particular country,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said.”

    Sure it is, it’s just that being a government official he’s not supposed to say it.

  • glycerin

    why not drop 2, one after the other? is that a crazy suggestion?

  • Vincent

    How about taping one of those old Nokia phones to the front. You know, the ones that also went by the name of T34, minus the three man crew.

  • Black Owl

    “USAF’s Big Penetrator Needs to Be Harder”

    When I read this I immediately had some very dirty thoughts. Now I feel ashamed.

  • Lance

    Sorry to say….. GOT TO GO NUCLEAR! LOL

  • Kotch

    well yeah, fight nukes with nukes. It seems legit. We thought you were building nukes… so we nuked your site. We’re allowed to do this, we invented nukes, copyright laws and all that….

    I can only imagine how difficult it is to build something to punch through 32 stories of fancy bunkerness. WOW!

    • CCDC

      where did it say that the MOP was nuclear?
      its not. it’s just a bomb.

  • Can you just drop two?

  • pandaa

    I wonder if some poor bastard has been given the task of coming up with a solution to bomb through a mountain without nukes.

    I bet he just sits all there day, staring at a drawing of a mountain on a whiteboard with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip whilst pushing his fingers into his eyes and sighing.

    cue Hollywood general storming out whilst shouting ‘I DON’T WANNA HEAR YOUR EXCUSES, JUST GET IT DONE!’

  • David

    According to the official USAF fact sheet, the B-2 has a payload limit of 40,000. Two of these bombs would equate to being a full 50% more weight than the aircraft can carry. That means we can’t drop two of them without commiting two aircraft to the same target with a near simultaneous drop time. Putting 2 x B-2s in the same small chunk of airspace strikes me as a fool’s venture since it would increase the chance they’d get engaged.

    • blight

      That would be about 3 billion dollars of aircraft (2x B-2’s) on a single target. Scary eh?

    • Mike

      Thats with max/max (a full bag of fuel and a full bomb load.) Once airborne, they take on more fuel or less fuel, depending on the bomb load. The B-2 can in fact carry two, with 20K less of fuel. All big bombers play that numbers game.

    • beaver

      the bombs are precision guided. an aircraft doesnt have to be right on top of the target anymore to hit it. from high alt they could by a long way away from each other and drop and modify the timeing and the bombs would enter one after another. my only worry is from the rubble of the first bomb going through would make the second bounce off and richochet plus the explosion of the first bomb could help or hender the second bomb going through and make it glance off and not completely procecute the target as needed.

  • CurtisLemay

    What would be harder than a depleted uranium nosecone?

  • blight
  • A. Nonymous

    It also needs more cowbell…

  • Tad

    I think it was Jerry Pournelle who came up with the idea a number of years ago of having, essentially, long tungsten rods in orbit with some kind of guidance ability attached to them. I would imagine that something like that would penetrate deeper than MOP.

  • Flight Eng

    “This has prompted the Pentagon to secretly ask lawmakers for $82 million to improve the bomb’s penetrating power.”

    Not so much secret if you know about it, and now the whole world…

  • Nick V

    Just put a nuclear warhead on the end of it and call it a day… If it’s used on a nuke facility, who cares anyways

  • J Hughes

    Sounds like something Extenze could help with…

  • Ron

    First drop a drum of K-Y and then drop the bomb for better penatration

    • TH1

      LOL !!!!!

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      OMG/ONOZ! The Dreaded K-Y Bomb! Isn’t there some international convention against that? Or didn’t the US ratify it?

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • nraddin

    Anyone else remember the idea of “Rods From God”. Essentially the idea was to drop telephone pole size tungsten rods and drop them on targets at speeds of around 25,000mph. The kinetic force produced shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with deeply buried targets. They could either be launched from satellites or just from ICBMs.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      Just for the record, you’d never get 25,000mph just by dropping something, even from orbit. LEO velocity is approx. 8 km/s, or 17 900 mph, and if you de-orbit something, even something like a tungsten rod, you are still going to bleed off a lot of that speed during re-entry.

      According to the always-reliable (*ahem*) Wikipedia, the predicted impact speed of the Project Thor rods was approx. Mach 10, or roughly 7 200mph.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen


    There’s a physical limitation to how large the new MOAB can get unless we’re planning to use a Lockheed C-130J to chuck it out from; but let’s face it, dropping a MOAB into a nuclear facility will release a lot of radiation and one might need to do a calculation of whether a MOAB is the right approach or simply jumping to a nuclear warhead where much of the radioactive material at the site will be consumed in the explosion to minimize the fallout.

    • STemplar

      There’s no such thing as surface burst nuclear explosion that minimizes fallout.

    • Dan

      Scientific American had an article about this idea a few years ago if I recall….

    • Jay

      Its not a new MOAB. Its a Massive Ordanance Penetrator, not an air burst. Also with how deep the facility is the radiation will be very slight if any, sense everything will collapse in on itself. Also you realize that nukes release radiation? It would be a lot better to release the radiation in a mountain or underneath 200 ft of sand then them blow one up in a city.

  • Mad Dog

    Instead of trying to destroy the underground facility, simply seal the entrances thus creating their own tomb.

  • john

    Drop my ex-wife on them… that would fawk them up, they would all get bitched to death! LOL

  • STemplar

    All fun aside, and it has been fun, the rods from God conversation is interesting from a technical stand point but we have treaties that say we won’t do that. To say nothing of the fact a military option may not be far off, so we need something ready to go pretty much now.

    Frankly I don’t think this is going to be or should be some airstrike on nuclear facilities. It isn’t like we just get to hit nuke facilities and the dynamic between us and the Iranians goes back to how it was. So we might as well all in and essentially launch an air campaign to dissect the regime and be done with it. No occupation and nation building, just nation un-building. Do away with the regimes ability to maintain control in Iran and they won’t have the time or resources to bother anyone else. Really at the point we pull the military option we might as well green light regime change.

    For the nuke facilities in particular we are going to make a hell of an environmental mess blowing up an operational centrifuge facility. Might be better to consider an airborne/airmobile/SF op against them. Go in short term, seize them, get into the place itself, wrap some centrifuges in det cord and contaminate the hell out of the place without spewing some cloud of debris. Probably be an intel bonanza as well.

  • Jeff

    I thought it was interesting when the AirForce was talking about droping two or more of these in tandem to get the desired effect,

  • P.D. Sims

    A rod from god may not be a bad idea, the MOAB is the wrong bomb to use on hardened targets. Have a B-2 carry a guided bomb with a tungsten carbite core. Have a rocket solid fueled engine fire durring the decent to increase the velocity and hence the kenetic energy on impact. Remember the first bunker busters were discarded cannon barrels with fins welded on the back and a bomb laser guided unit in front. this problem can be solved without spending 82 million dollars. Stop thinking explosions and think kenetic energy.

  • person

    why not just not go to war

  • bbmn

    Wash, Rinse and Repeat… Aquire, Launch and Repeat. That which works for hair works for bunkers.

  • lj81581

    Does the writer have peni$ envy, or just a case of wilt? Must have collaborated with the developers of the “new” capitol for Florida to come up with that title and reference to V!agra.

    But, seriously, I hope someone considers the effect of dropping this on a nuke facility and the “fallout” that comes from that, environmentally, politically, economically, and the backlash from injured civilians that will be more inclined to want to get back at us. There are likely to be better options than spending another $82 million just for the upgrades. And, how many of these do we need anyway? Sounds like two will do the job, so why an arsenal of 20+? I am all for a strong military, but we also need to re-build our economy at home. There needs to be a balance.

  • Mat

    32 stories of reinforced concrete sounds real badass but in reality its just 32 times 20 inches of rebar reinforced concrete that is a lot softer target that solid bedrock most likely similar in composition to Granit.

    Bunker busters are really only meant to collapse entrances,penetrating a core of an underground facility is normally not possible with out going nuclear . To increase survivability such facility normally has dozens of of real and fake exits and ventilation shafts. .Experience in the Balkans where bunker busters were used repeatedly on underground air base were dismal and at the end of the conflict all the planes were flown out, and airbase is much softer target than Norad or similar complexes .Even so some of these airbases were designed for to survive a 20kiloton hit.

  • howard

    According to the always-reliable (*ahem*) Wikipedia, the predicted impact speed of the Project Thor rods was approx. Mach 10, or roughly 7 200mph.

    i’d focus on the mass needed to make up the difference.

  • If we are going to the realm of scifi and Thor is too small then Heinlein had the answer. Put a moon colony up with a magnetic mass accelerator and throw rocks, really big stone masses in a ferrous skin with rocket thrusters to fine tune the earth atmospheric entry to hit the target. An aerodynamic 100 ton rock entering atmosphere at 7-10 kilometers per second will have enough residual energy to shake most bunkers. And the moon has LOTS of rocks. See “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Anson Heinlein.

  • ltcjwb

    Actually, it was Robert Heinlein, in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Good read, as was his “Starship Troopers”. All it takes is dropping a sizeable rock a couple hundred thousand miles down the gravity well. it ain’t the fall that hurts, but the sudden stop . . .

  • fritz

    The tail fins should be angled instead of flat to make the bomb spin instead of retarding its descent. the faster the bomb accelerates the deeper it should pentrate the target. There are WW2 Axis submarine pens today in France that resisted all of the latest design of bombs dropped during the war.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “The tail fins should be angled instead of flat to make the bomb spin instead of retarding its descent.”
      Tail fins are needed for stability, and they induce drag. Making the bomb spin does not change this.

      “the faster the bomb accelerates the deeper it should pentrate the target”
      Up to the point where it smacks into the ground so fast that the bomb casing loses structural integrity.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • Daryl

    What about the hypersonic aircraft the Air Force has been testing? Could that not be turned in to a hypersonic kinetic kill weapon? Sounds reasonable to me. That way you get the MOP with a speed kick to it!

  • Old Fed Vet

    I have a great and inexpensive idea. Drop the POTUS in by Paracheute and he can talk them into submission or at the least put them to sleep while Seal Team 6 finishes the job.

  • Trent J. Telenko

    The easiest and quickest way to upgrade MOAB penetration is to put a shaped charge explosive warhead inside the existing bomb case.

    The NDRC of WW2 did that very successfully with the USAAF AN/M65 1000lb warhead for an Azon or Razon guided bombs to deal with Japanese cave defenses and armored warships.

    The idea was dropped and forgotten when the A-bomb got the Imperial Japanese Military to surrender.

    Getting such a warhead to function properly after a deep penetrating MOAB impact is a non-trivial, but reasonable, engineering challenge.

    $82 million for a quickie development program to drop a dozen shaped charge MOABs, and retrofit the existing inventory is very reasonable, as Pentagon programs go.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “The easiest and quickest way to upgrade MOAB penetration….”

      MOAB is an air blast weapon. The last thing you want is to increase its penetration. Or did you mean MOP?

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

  • Sheila

    I don’t like the color of it. We need more cooler colors.

  • watchyourself

    That’s what she said.

  • The Tireless Agorist: Uncle Sam Seeks Harder, Deeper Penetrator

  • Jay

    Yes one penetrator doing the job would be nice. But if its this high of a priority then the decision to use two will be made. Dual weapon delivery is something that has only recently been used and increases the damage. Yes it’s an expensive weapon but it looks a lot better than using a nuke to the national community.

  • StrumPanzer

    Apparently Uncle Sam’s Deep Penetrator needs the little blue pill. He is over a 100 now.

  • The Daring Dufas

    I always thought the perfect weapon with perfect deniability would be an asteroid plucked from The Asteroid Belt with a guidance system and rocket boosters so

    it could be dropped on the offending country. The claim could be that it was the will

    of their chosen deity. ^_^


    • blight

      All it would take is an orbital miscalculation to drop a rock on Israel instead of Iran. The wrong people would be pleased.

  • Lou

    There must be a reason that motivates so many players to devote so many hours to games such as EverQuest, World of Warcraft and many other Massive MultiPlayer Online Role Playing Games, or MMORPGs.
    Other role playing games work on a more limited levvel in that the character has a task to perform.
    It’s possible that some ggames may still ruun well
    on a PC with lower specifications, but there are often problems with game
    pkay andd graphics.