As tensions escalate with Iran over its nuclear program, the US military has released images of a powerful bomb designed to penetrate deep into the earth and destroy underground facilities that could be used to enrich uranium.
The US Air Force released rare images of the GBU-57 weapon, the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator.” He then removed the photos because the photos revealed sensitive details about the weapon’s composition and firing pin.
The publication of the photos comes as The Associated Press has reported that Iran is advancing steadily to build a nuclear facility likely to be out of range of the GBU-57, considered the US military’s weapon of last resort to shoot down Underground bunkers.
What do we know about the massive American artillery penetrator?
The United States developed the massive artillery penetrator in the 2000s as concerns grew that Iran would bolster its nuclear facilities by building them underground.
The Air Force posted images of the bombs on the Whiteman Air Force Base on Missouri’s Facebook page. The base houses the fleet of B-2 stealth bombers, the only aircraft that can deploy the bomb.
In a caption, the base said it had received two Massive Ordnance Penetrator bombs so a munitions squad could “test their performance.”
It is not the first time the Air Force has released photos and videos of the bombing, coinciding with increased acrimony with Tehran over its nuclear program.
In 2019, the US military released a video of a B-2 bomber dropping two of the bombs. The Air Force did not respond to requests for comment on why it posted — and removed — the most recent set of photos.
What emerges from the photos?
The latest photos revealed that the bombs carried a template indicating their weight as 12,300 kilograms (27,125 lb). It also described the bomb as carrying a mixture of AFX-757, a standard explosive, and PBXN-114, a relatively new explosive compound, said Rahul Udoshi, a weapons analyst at Janes, an open-source intelligence firm.
The weight of the bomb, judging by the templates, indicates that most of it come from its thick steel casing, which allows it to penetrate concrete and soil before exploding. However, it remains unclear what the exact effectiveness of the weapon would be.
The Warzone, an Internet news site, first reported the publication of the photos. The AP contacted Whiteman Air Force Base and Air Force Global Strike Command to ask about the images. After a day, the Facebook post disappeared.
Udoshi said the Air Force probably withdrew them because they revealed too much information about the bombs. “Immediate removal from the internet without comment (or) justification means there is a potential glitch,” Udoshi said.
What role would this bomb play in the possible attack on Iran’s nuclear program?
The AP reported Monday that satellite images from Planet Labs PBC reveal that Tehran has tunneled into the mountain near the Natanz nuclear site in central Iran. Excavation mounds at the site suggest the facility could be between 260 feet (80 meters) and 328 feet (100 meters) underground, according to experts and AP analysis.
Experts say the size of the construction project indicates that Iran could use the underground facilities to enrich uranium, not just to build centrifuges. Arranged in grand cascades of dozens of machines, those tube-shaped centrifuges rapidly spin uranium gas to enrich it. Additional machines would allow Iran to rapidly enrich uranium under the mountain’s protection.
That could be a problem for the GBU-57: In previously describing the bomb’s capabilities, the Air Force has said it could pass through 200 feet (60 meters) of dirt and concrete before detonating.
Could the United States try to drop the bomb?
US officials have discussed the possibility of using two such bombs in a row to ensure the destruction of a site. But even in that case, the new depth of the Natanz tunnels would present a serious challenge.
To further complicate any possible US military attack, the B-2s have been grounded for months since December, when one of them caught fire after an emergency landing.
Yesterday Monday, General Thomas A. Bussiere, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, announced that the immobilization of the B-2s had been lifted.
“Although the B-2 fleet’s security pause has officially ended, our long-range strike and nuclear deterrent capability have never been in question,” he said in a statement.