A few fun memories of the just-ended Dubai Airshow.
A few fun memories of the just-ended Dubai Airshow.
Boeing says it has completed a static tunnel lethality test of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. Some of you may remember we earlier blogged on MOP, the 30,000 lb. bomb U.S. Air Force would drop from B-2 or B-52 bombers.
MOP contains about 5,300 lb. of explosive material. The 20-ft.-long weapon should be able to reach targets as deep as 60 meters below ground, and penetrate 5,000 psi of reinforced concrete. If the concrete is stronger, around 10,000 psi, it should still deliver a penetrtion depth of 8 meters.
MOP testing was actually supposed to take place last year, but by Pentagon standards the roughly half-year delay is nothing out of the ordinary.
The March 14 test under the Defense Threat Reduction Agency-sponsored program – that’s the organization focused on eliminating weapons of mass destruction facilities – took place at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
The Air Force now plans to give Boeing a sole-source contract to integrate MOP on the B-2, and develop production plans. Why sole-source? The Air Force says it wants the contractor to have 2 years experience with the program, and that eliminates all the competition.
Congress provided extra money for MOP, in part as a counter to the administration’s desire to develop the robust nuclear earth penetrator.
The U.S. Air Force is planning yet another upgrade to Predatorunmanned aircraft, to make the missile-shooting, reconnaissance system a true, multi-intelligence collector.
The latest initiative would see the medium-altitude fitted with the ability to monitor radars. At the heart of the upgrade is the so called Airborne Signal Intelligence Payload, that is being designed as an integrated device to monitor radar and communications systems.
ASIPs is not a new program. The Air Force started work on the sigint system in 1999, with the high-flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft named as the platform to carry the device. Critical design review for that version took place in 2005. The receivers are being mounted in the two distinctive underwing pods the U-2 can be seen carrying.
Later, the Air Force decided to also install the Northrop Grumman-developed ASIP on the Global Hawk high-altitude endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, made by the same company. Global Hawk is the nominal replacement for the U-2, so adding ASIP to the drone was logical. The signals intelligence capability will build on a more rudimentary radar monitoring system already flown on the UAV.
Barring delays, ASIP should be part of the so called Block 30 upgrade to Global Hawk, and be fielded in 2008. First flight is supposed to take place this year with both the high-band (radar intercept) and low-band (communications) subsystems. The radar portion has already been flown on Global Hawk. But now, the service is contemplating shifting ASIP also to the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and its related MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Initial work will focus on sorting out what the hurdles might be to add the sigint subsystem to the Predator family. Issues could include power supply and antenna separation. Also unclear is whether a Predator could carry both high-band and low-band elements at the same time — on the U-2, it takes at least seven electronic boxes, not counting the receivers. No timeline, exists, yet, for fielding of the capability.
With concern in the Pentagon increasing about Iran and North Korea, both countries known to have hidden strategic facilities underground – including key elements of their nuclear establishment — the U.S. military is putting on the fast track an effort to field a massive, precision bomb designed to destroy just such facilities.
The weapon, called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), has been in development for more than two years. It is essentially a 30,000 lb.-class bomb, designed to use its massive kinetic energy from a high-altitude drop to reach targets deep underground, before setting off its explosive. To some extent, it’s the Pentagon’s best shot at taking out such deeply buried targets without having to resort to a nuclear weapon. MOP would be the Pentagon’s largest GPS-guided bomb in inventory.
The Pentagon certainly seems eager to get the bomb into its inventory. A decision has been made to take a development program that appeared to be moving ahead at moderate pace and put it on the front burner. The Pentagon is looking to start a program soon to integrate the weapon on the B-2 stealth bomber, which has always been one of the intended delivery systems.
The “quick reaction” effort, the U.S. military’s phrase for an urgent activity, is supposed to result in the B-2 being able to drop the bomb within 9 months from program launch.
Sponsorship of the weapon’s development has come from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which oversees efforts for the Defense Department to destroy underground weapons of mass destruction facilities as part of its mandate. Until recently, DTRA, located south of Washington, D.C. at Ft. Belvoir, Va., appeared content to let the program proceed on its own pace. Less than a year ago, DTRA director James A. Tegnelia described the Massive Ordnance Penetrator as no more than a test article. “We are not in the process to convince anybody to field a large earth penetrator,” he told the Pentagon’s internal newswire.
The Air Force, which is in charge of integrating weapons on its aircraft, is still preparing the ground work for the B-2 activity, but the “quick reaction” designation indicates the program is seen as a priority. Moreover, preparations also are being made for the purchase of “a limited number” of the bombs. Boeing was selected to develop and test MOP in November 2004, under a program initially estimated to cost $20 million. Although the B-2 has been seen as the main delivery platform, each of the bombers would be able to carry two of the weapons (one in each weapons bay), the older B-52H bomber would also be able to drop the bomb.
The Air Force Research Laboratory has also been closely involved with the program. One of its researchers told an Aviation Week colleague and myself several yeas ago that in developing the weapon, the service would draw heavily on work it had done when it built the 21,000-lb. GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb. MOAB (which Air Force officials jokingly says actually stands for Mother Of All Bombs) was developed for the Iraq war but not used there. MOP is much bigger, with a thicker casing to withstand the earth penetration, but contains less explosive material. But some of the aerodynamic lessons learned on MOAB concerning how to drop such huge bombs have come in useful.
The 30,000 lb. MOP would represent a step-change in the U.S. military’s capability. Currently, the Pentagon has to rely on 5,000 lb. penetrators or try to place several missiles or bombs in the same crater to dig down. The Pentagon also has several 2,000 lb. penetrator bombs, some with special casings to increase the depth they can reach.
Just how deep MOP could strike is classified, although some officials suggest it could be well in excess of 100 feet. Having the bomb withstand the initial impact with the ground is the biggest design stressor, program manager Bob Hastie told two of my Aviation Week colleagues after the program was well underway. The casing is provided by the same company, Irvine, Pennsylvania-based Ellwood National Forge, which helped create the Air Force’s 5,000 lb. penetrator bomb built as a quick reaction program for the 1991 Persian Gulf war.