Digging Deep for Hard News

There was a quick, but unremarked correction at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium last week. Air Combat Command chief Gen. William Fraser, in his keynote speech, said the Air Force’s new penetrating bomber would have to carry the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, a gargantuan, 30,000-pound-class weapon designed to excavate hardened, deeply buried targets. Such a weapon would require an airplane big enough to carry it—something akin to the B-2 bomber. But Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Philip Breedlove, in his subsequent speech, said USAF is looking to a next generation of weapons, with the capability of the MOP, but in a much smaller package, perhaps 5,000 pounds. That would allow the new bomber to be a substantially smaller airplane, perhaps F-111-sized. Industry and service sources say USAF is aggressively pursuing deep bunker-busters, exploring both boosted and gravity weapons, and has so far found no depth or hardening limit that these munitions cannot breach in tests. However, terminal guidance is tricky. When they hit the earth, the weapons sometimes behave unpredictably. One technologist said the effect is akin to shooting a bullet into water at an angle, sometimes producing an unexpected trajectory. Adversaries know about this and are shaping bunkers, accordingly . . . and digging deeper.