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Context of 'Spring 2003: Funding Allocated to Develop Nuclear Bunker-Buster'

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The proposed 2004 budget of the Energy Department’s Nuclear Security Administration includes some $15 million for the development of a nuclear bunker-buster bomb called the “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” and $6 million for two of the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. The labs would “assemble design teams to study advanced nuclear concepts,” the Washington Post reports. [Washington Post, 2/20/2003; USA Today, 7/6/2003]

Timeline Tags: US Military

Defense Department officials and representatives from the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos laboratories attend the “Stockpile Stewardship Conference Planning Meeting” called by Dale Klein, the assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to prepare for a secret conference on nuclear weapons during the week of August 4, 2003 (see Early August 2003). The purpose of the conference will be to discuss the construction of a new generation of nuclear weapons, including “low-yield” neutron bombs designed to destroy chemical or biological agents and “mini-nukes,” or “bunker-busters,” which could be used to destroy underground targets. Another purpose of the meeting will be to consider restarting nuclear testing and to discuss how the American public can be convinced that the new weapons are necessary. [San Francisco Chronicle, 2/15/2003; Guardian, 2/19/2003; Washington Post, 2/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Dale Klein

Timeline Tags: US Military

The House of Representatives and the Senate agree to spend $15.5 million to develop a nuclear bunker-buster, or “mini-nuke,” called the “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” (see January 2003). They also agree to allocate funds to make changes to the Nevada Test Site (see Early March 2003) in order to shorten the amount of time that would be needed to resume nuclear tests to as little as 18-24 months. [Guardian, 3/7/2003; USA Today, 7/6/2003]

Timeline Tags: US Military

During the week marking the 48th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 150 people attend a secret conference at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to discuss plans to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, including the so-called “mini-nukes” and “bunker busters,” that could be used against rogue states and terrorist organizations. The B-29 planes that dropped the atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities, Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, were both built at Offutt. Another topic to be discussed is whether the development of nuclear weapons would require a repeal of the 1992 “Spratt-Furse restriction,” which banned such weapons. Though the exact identities of the attendees are not known, unnamed sources tell the Guardian of London that the meeting is attended by scientists and administrators from the three main nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos, Sandia and Livermore; senior officers from the air force and strategic command; weapons contractors; and civilian defense officials. No representatives from Congress, however, are at the meeting. According to the Guardian, “Requests by Congress to send observers were rejected, and an oversight committee which included academic nuclear experts was disbanded only a few weeks earlier.” One congressional weapons expert tells the London newspaper, “I was specifically told I couldn’t come.” [Guardian, 8/7/2003] According to the January meeting that had planned for this event (see January 10, 2003), other issues to be addressed include the possible recommencement of nuclear testing and how to convince the American public the new nuclear weapons are necessary.

Entity Tags: US Congress

Timeline Tags: US Military

The BBC reports that US plans for air strikes on Iran extend well beyond that country’s nuclear power plants and nuclear development sites, and include most of Iran’s military infrastructure. If ordered, US air strikes would target Iran’s air bases, naval bases, missile facilities, and command centers. The US insists it has no plans for any strikes against Iran, but evidence suggests otherwise (see September 2004). However, diplomatic sources say that US military planners have already selected their target sets inside Iran. The BBC claims that such a strike would be triggered by US confirmation that Iran is indeed building a nuclear weapon, which the US has asserted is the case but Iran denies. Another trigger could be if the US learns that Iran is behind any high-casualty attack on US forces inside Iraq. The US air strike plans include B2 stealth bombers delivering “bunker-buster” bombs on the nuclear facility at Natanz, which is deep underground. US officials insisted in January that they had evidence Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents, but those reports were soon debunked by US military officials. [BBC, 2/20/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Part of the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $88 million for modifying B-2 stealth bombers to carry “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” or bunker-busting, bombs. Many both in and out of government believe that the order has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, but is part of the Bush administration’s plans for attacking Iran. The 30,000-pound bombs, called MOPs, are the largest conventional bombs in the military’s arsenal, designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding. The only explanation given in the White House’s budget request is that it comes in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” But no one at the Pentagon or the US Central Command has, so far, been able or willing to identify that need. Military experts say that there is no need for MOPs in Iraq. They could potentially be useful in Afghanistan to destroy Taliban or al-Qaeda hideouts in the mountainous, cave-riddled border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there is no need to use stealth bombers to deploy such weapons. But MOPs are ideal for a strike at Iraq’s heavily fortified, deeply buried nuclear facility in Natanz. John Pike of Globalsecurity.org says, “You’d use it on Natanz. And you’d use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly.” Pike says he does not fully understand the rationale behind the public funding request. “It’s kind of strange,” he says. “It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn’t think you would want to announce it like that.” [ABC News, 10/24/2007] The request for the bomber modifications comes simultaneously with one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s most belligerent challenges towards Iran (see October 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: John Pike, Bush administration (43), Globalsecurity.org, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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