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'Bunker busters' may grow to 30,000 pounds

U.S. Air Force seeking deep impact on hard-to-reach targets

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

The proposed bomb would be about six times the weight of this "bunker buster," the laser-guided GBU-28.
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New bomb would be capable of destroying hardened, underground bunkers.
U.S. Air Force
North Korea

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's just an idea on paper, but the U.S. Air Force is asking defense contractors how they might develop a 30,000-pound, precision-guided bomb that could destroy targets deep underground, in caves or in hardened bunkers.

Air Force officials said the proposed weapon, called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, would be substantially larger than the current penetrating bomb -- the GBU-28, a 5,000-pound weapon.

Military officials said the most likely use of such a weapon would be against underground targets such as those found in North Korea.

The Air Force initially considered the development of a 30,000-pound penetrating bomb before the Iraq war, but funding and technical challenges stifled movement.

After the invasion, Air Force weapons experts examined several bomb sites in Iraq and learned targets could not be fully destroyed using the current inventory of conventional weapons.

However, Air Force officials said they are uncertain whether the concept of a bigger bomb can be brought to reality or that there would be available funding.

The Air Force concept calls for the bomb to be deployed on B-2 or B-52 bombers. The weapon would be guided by use of Global Positioning System satellite coordinates.

Engineering obstacles must be overcome, according to Air Force officials.

One challenge would be the need to carry two bombs on an aircraft to keep the plane stable in flight. Both bombs probably would need to be dropped at the same time for the bomber to maintain level flight, officials said.

Air Force officials said the bomb's structure would incorporate some type of heavy alloy that would make up most of the weight, allowing it to penetrate the target. An advanced or "smart" fuse also would be part of the system, so that detonation would occur only after the bomb reached the target, they said.

The Air Force said it is prepared to spend $11 million on weapon design and demonstration, with testing possibly beginning in 2006.

This bomb concept, informally known as the "Big Blue," differs from the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, a 20,000-pound weapon packed with 18,000 pounds of explosives. The MOAB bomb is designed to explode above ground for destruction of widespread surface targets such as troops and tanks.

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