The United States does not currently possess a nuclear gravity bomb capable of penetrating buried, hardened targets, according to a published report on Thursday.
Furthermore, the Trump administration’s plans to upgrade the aging U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal does not include a new weapon that experts say is necessary to target deeply buried and hardened targets that Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, among others, have built to protect leaders and weapons.
Recently, the Air Force announced that a B-2 bomber operating out of Nellis Air Force Base conducted a simulated strike using a modernized B61 gravity bomb the Defense Department has said will feature some earth-penetrating capability.
B61s have also been dropped recently from F-15s (see above photo).
But the B61 Mod 12, the latest version of the weapon, won’t be able to penetrate hundreds of feet of rock or concrete “that protects Russia’s Kasvinsky Mountain nuclear command post, or key underground command centers in the 3,000-mile-long Great Underground Wall complex that houses China’s nuclear forces and leaders,” the Free Beacon reported.
In addition, North Korea and Iran have both built command-and-control bunkers for leaders in deep, reinforced bunkers.
North Korea is believed to be storing nuclear warheads in deep underground bunkers, while Iran is storing missile systems in large underground complexes, the Free Beacon reported.
DoD’s recent nuclear posture review said China and Russia “are fielding an array of anti-access area denial (A2/AD) capabilities and underground facilities to counter U.S. precision conventional strike capabilities.”
North Korea, meanwhile, is reliant on deep underground facilities “to secure the Kim regime and its key military and command and control capabilities.”
Analysis: This isn’t to say that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not at all capable of targeting underground facilities. Currently, the Pentagon fields two gravity bombs — the “B83-1 gravity bomb, with a reported yield of around 1.2 megatons, or the equivalent of 1.2 million tons of TNT, and the B61-11 gravity bomb, that has a reported yield of 400 kilotons,” the news report noted.
But for now, the Pentagon isn’t certain that these weapons will do the trick, so it is continuing to develop the B61-12 for that purpose, and defense officials hope it will be ready for deployment by 2020.
Still, experts claim that without the ability to penetrate deeply, the nuclear yield won’t make much difference. Also, there is a targeting problem: Many bunkers are buried near or within urban centers so targeting them would mean targeting civilians by default.
Russia, in particular, has embarked on an effort to bolster and harden its underground facilities with improvement “to Kosvinsky Mountain, a major command center located several hundred miles east of Moscow.”
Russian nuclear doctrine, dated 2006, discussed the development of nuclear penetrators as well. And it’s likely the Chinese are working on similar weapons.