US manufacturer awarded $20 million contact to address problem of penetrating deeply buried and hardened targets
A gigantic penetrating bomb will be designed and tested by Boeing under a $20 million contract awarded last week by the US Air Force, as the service desperately seeks a solution to the problem of defeating deeply buried targets. The 13,600kg (30,000lb) Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) will be nearly 50% larger than the 9,500kg Massive Ordnance Air Burst (MOAB) weapon rushed into service during the lead-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003.
Although different in application, the MOP will borrow heavily from the guidance systems and lattice-fin control surfaces developed for the MOAB. Alabama-based Dynetics, the MOAB's maker, has publicly disclosed its participation in the project, as well as two related, but undisclosed technologies intended to complement the MOP's mission.
The MOP weapon would be used to strike the air force's most difficult class of targets - hardened bunkers buried beneath multi-storey buildings or deep underground. The USAF requires the weapon to have a fuze-and-arming system able to sustain the impact and heat of crushing below the surface and through multiple layers of heavy concrete before igniting the warhead.
The US Air Force Research Laboratory at Eglin AFB, Florida is planning a series of five drop tests in 2007 using a Boeing B-52H bomber, after a three-year design phase. Boeing Phantom Works in St Louis is to produce the five test munitions, which will be the largest in the air force's inventory. The MOP experiment is being funded by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
The air force, meanwhile, is still debating the best method for destroying deeply buried targets. While MOP-like concepts are at one end of the spectrum, the air force is also looking at lightweight, high-speed penetrators, which would combine hypersonic ballistics and precision guidance to perform the same mission.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE / WASHINGTON DC