Facing the Hard Truth

The capacity of the US military to defeat hard and deeply buried targets with non-nuclear means may not be as great as previously thought after recent on-site assessments of bombed cave complexes in Afghanistan, the head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency told a Senate oversight panel earlier this month. “We have learned from recent combat assessments in the field that we have not progressed as much as we had initially believed,” James Tegnelia, DTRA director, said in written testimony March 12 to the Senate Armed Services emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee. “In fact, in this contest, the defense is prevailing and our offensive capabilities are at risk of falling farther behind.” Tegnelia said DTRA dispatched a team in August 2007 at the request of then-Central Command Air Forces (now Air Forces Central) to the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan to assess the damage at several cave sites that US aircraft had bombed. Despite his sobering statement all hope is not lost, he said. DTRA is maturing the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bunker buster and believes that additional innovations like novel weapons based on advanced energetic principles will allow the US to hold HDBTs at risk without resorting to nuclear weapons. But there is also the need to “significantly improve” HDBT-defeat modeling and simulation capabilities, he said.