If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

I’m somewhat surprised that this is news:

Tucked inside the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is an item that has some people wondering whether the administration is preparing for military action against Iran.

The item: $88 million to modify B-2 stealth bombers so they can carry a newly developed 30,000-pound bomb called the massive ordnance penetrator, or, in military-speak, the MOP.

The MOP is the the military’s largest conventional bomb, a super “bunker-buster” capable of destroying hardened targets deep underground. The one-line explanation for the request said it is in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.”

What urgent need? The Pentagon referred questions on this to Central Command.

ABC News called CENTCOM to ask what the “urgent operational need” is. CENTCOM spokesman Maj. Todd White said he would look into it, but, so far, no answer.

There doesn’t appear to be any potential targets for a bomb like that in Iraq. It could potentially be used on Taliban or al Qaeda hideouts in the caves along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there would be no need to use a stealth bomber there.

Sorry, no dice. That wouldn’t require a stealth bomber, either. I doubt that the Air Force would conduct an operation like that until the Iranian air defense capability had been sufficiently degraded anyway.

So why? My answer: to justify stealth bombers. Their utility today is significantly less than it was in the Cold War days—they’re an artifact of the belief that we’ll face a high-tech superpower adversary. But they still have their exponents who are looking around for justifications for having more of them.

But what about the timing? Timing schmiming. This idea has been bandied about since Tora Bora. That it shows up in a military appropriations bill, emergency or not, is more a measure of the persistence of the perception of the need than it is of the imminence of its use.

I continue to believe that we won’t be bombing or invading Iran any time soon which will disappoint members of two very disparate groups.

The first group is the “Bomb Iran Now” club, whose members will take the Administration’s reluctance to bomb as yet another sign of the Administration’s stupidity and fecklessness.

The second group is the Bush Derangement Syndrome folks for whom every current event is an illustration of the vileness of the Administration. I believe that at any given moment the card-carrying members of this hearty band are expecting jack-booted security officers to show up their doors or for yet another country to be bombed out of existence.

Still, the very appearance of this story is another way of sowing doubt amongst the Iranian regime. I’ve got to give credit to somebody for that.

There are other ways, of course. You can impose new sanctions:

The Bush administration plans to roll out an unprecedented package of unilateral sanctions against Iran today, including the long-awaited designations of its Revolutionary Guard Corps as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and of the elite Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism, according to senior administration officials.

The package, scheduled to be announced jointly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., marks the first time that the United States has tried to isolate or punish another country’s military. It is the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, the officials said.

This is symbolic action more than anything else. We haven’t had a lot of dealing with Iran for more than a generation. Real, serious actions would be to impose sanctions on those in other countries who do business with Iran but, as with Cuba, I don’t expect to see that any time soon. It would be too costly.

And, in answer to the question in the title to this post, yes, the tree’s falling makes a sound whether anyone’s there to hear it or not. That no one remembers what bunker-buster bomb measures were in previous approprations doesn’t mean that they weren’t there.

6 comments… add one
  • I think you’re probably right. Although I could see a scenario in which the Pentagon might prefer a few strikes against specific nuclear targets as opposed to the sort of multiple-day, hundreds of missions sort of thing required to take down Iran’s defenses definitively.

    I also wonder how this came to ABC’s attention and whether it was pointed out by those wanting to send a message to Iran.

  • This is the funding for a requirement that’s been around for a little while now. And then Northrup won the contract and began the R&D for the modifications. This latest news is simply the funding required to complete the integration the Air Force has been planning since the weapon was first designed.

    As for the “urgent operational need” – that’s really just to justify why the funds are in the “emergency” part of the supplemental. Even so, I have no doubt that war-planners in several theaters (not just CENTCOM) would want the MOP-B2 capability for their contingency planning.

    On “that wouldn’t require a stealth bomber” that’s not quite true. The MOP was designed only for the B-2 and B-52. The B-52 is simply not survivable against even a mediocre air defense system and would require a large number of aircraft to defend it from various threats – Aircraft that could be used elsewhere with a B-2, which requires minimal support. So while stealth technology may not be strictly necessary, it is nevertheless a tremendous military advantage, particularly if one wants a limited, surprise strike.

    Finally, I must disagree this is to “justify stealth bombers.” At this point, they are already bought and paid for and no more will be built. Furthermore, there are no plans to build another long-range bomber for the forseeable future, so the US will rely on the B-2, B-1b and B-52 for probably the next 20-30 years if not longer. As a result, the B-2 requires upgrades and modifications to carry new weapons as they are developed (something that’s already occurred with the various JDAM variants and the SDB), better avionics as they become available, etc. Compared to the development and procurement cost of a new bomber, I think money spent upgrading our existing bomber fleet is money well spent.

  • Good information, Andy. Thanks.

    The bottom line, however, is that what you’ve said supports my hipshot reaction: thinking of this as news or some sort of controversy is reaching.

  • I agree Dave. It seems that some in the media and elsewhere look for any information that might conceivably indicate intent to attack Iran and then publish it uncritically. Doug Feith would be proud.

Leave a Comment