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Bunker-Buster Bomb Improvements Sought by Pentagon Win Approval

The Pentagon won congressional approval to shift $81.6 million in funds to improve the military’s largest conventional weapon, the 30,000-pound Boeing Co. Massive Ordnance Penetrator, known as the bunker-buster bomb.

The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee on Feb. 7 became the fourth and final defense panel to approve the shift from programs deemed less important, Pentagon spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Robbins said today in an e-mail. "It was an urgent request,” Robbins said without elaboration.

The move to improve the bomb shortly after the Air Force took delivery may have been triggered by Iran’s announcement Jan. 9 that it would begin uranium enrichment at the Fordow facility near Qom that’s tunneled into mountains, said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East military analyst for the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

“This is a very hard target, and the international community believes that if Iran were to attempt a nuclear breakout, it would be conducted at this site,” Katzman said of the enrichment activity, which could be used to produce enough material for a nuclear device. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian uses.

The Pentagon request to upgrade the bomb was submitted 11 days after the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed the enrichment activity. The location at Qom is 90 meters (295 feet) under rock, said David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

Tail Fin, Fuse

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said in a Jan. 20 request to Congress that the money was needed to “fix issues identified in testing, including tail-fin modifications and integrating a second fuse, enhance weapon capabilities, build test targets and conduct live weapon testing. The request funds the immediate requirement to support the desired upgrade schedule,” Hale wrote.

Boeing, based in Chicago, is manufacturing the bomb, which was successfully demonstrated in March 2007.

The Air Force took delivery in September of the first of 20 bombs built to fit in the B-2 stealth bomber. The bomb is six times bigger than the 5,000-pound (2,268 kilogram) bunker-buster that the U.S. Air Force and the Israeli Air Force have to attack deeply buried nuclear, biological or chemical sites.

A December 2007 story by the Air Force News Service said the new bomb has a hardened-steel casing and can reach targets as far as 200 feet underground before exploding.

The 20.5-foot-long bomb carries more than 5,300 pounds of explosives and is guided by Global Positioning System satellites, according to a description on the website of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

An Air Force fact sheet says “final system refinement, design and test will be complete in 2012, with additional deliveries in 2013.”

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