As you've probably heard by now, Sy Hersh has a new scoop: that planning for an attack on Iran is further along than you think, and that nukes might be involved.
One of the militarys initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Irans main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz... reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year... The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Irans nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.Based on a 1950's design, the B61-11 bunker-buster has been around in its current form since 1997. That Divine Strake test -- the one that's gonna produce the "mushroom cloud over Las Vegas" on June 2? Probably a B61 simulation, the Arms Control Wonk says.The Pentagon and the Energy Department have been pushing for an update for several years, now -- something that can penetrate deeper, and rely on a lower nuclear yield. That program, the "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator," is officially cancelled. But there's widespread speculation that money for this project is just hidden elsewhere.Meanwhile, Lockheed is looking into the "Kinetic Energy Cavity Penetrator Weapon" -- a bunker-buster that surrounds the bomb with a gas bubble, so it can plow into the ground ten times further than similar weapons. Testing continues for the Army's "Deep Digger," the bunker-buster that uses cannon to tunnel through solid rock, drilling a channel for the bomb. It's the current record-holder for non-nuclear penetrators, going down twice as deep as the nearest competitor. But still, that's only 30 feet. The Natanz bunker is down another 45. Which is why we're getting ready to see that massive explosion outside of Vegas.UPDATE 04/09/06 10:56 AM: "The Air Force is proposing to build a new 'prompt global strike'" missile, Inside Defense notes. "Land-based boosters traditionally used for nuclear weapons would be reconfigured and fitted with conventional warheads, according to Air Force Space Command."UPDATE 04/10/06 9:02 AM: "The White House, sensitive to President Bush's image as a war hawk, is trying to play down the possibility of a military strike," the AP notes.Meanwhile, the Wonk says that "we are not going to nuke Iran."How deep down the Natanz facility is less important than what's covering it, the Wonk notes. In Natanz' case, we're talking about a lot of rock and soil. Which means that 5,000-pound conventional bunker-busters, like the GBU-28, ought to do the job of knocking out Natanz rather nicely.