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Fw: [lesgreens] "Bunker Buster": a nuclear weapon?

Oct 11, 2001 06:14 PM
by Pendragon

----- Original Message -----
From: "Michael laird" <>
To: "LES Greens" <>; "manhattan greens"
Sent: Thursday, October 11, 2001 1:54 PM
Subject: [lesgreens] "Bunker Buster": a nuclear weapon?

I was curious to find out what exactly a "bunker
buster" is. here's I found:
first, an abstract from the NY Times:

May 31, 1997, Saturday
U.S. Refits a Nuclear Bomb To Destroy Enemy Bunkers
Source: The New York Times
Section: National Desk
1289 words

US deploys 'bunker buster' nuclear bomb, designed to
destroy underground factories and laboratories while
causing relatively little surface damage; weapon,
designated B-61, is repackaging of a 30-year-old
hydrogen bomb that was originally designed to be
dropped from an airplane by parachute and explode
while still aloft; dropped without parachute, it can
burrow as deep as 50 feet into soil before exploding;
critics say B-61 is new weapon intended to be used
against rogue states suspected of trying to develop
weapons of mass destruction in underground complexes;

Scarey, eh? next, from the Journal of the Federation
of American Scientists:

Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons

By Robert W. Nelson

Fig. 1 Diagrams like this one give the false
impression that a low-yield earth penetrating nuclear
weapon would
"limit collateral damage" and therefore be relatively
safe to use. In fact, because of the large amount of
radioactive dirt thrown out in the explosion, the
hypothetical 5-kiloton weapon discussed in the
accompanying article would produce a large area of
lethal fallout. (Philadelphia Inquirer/ Cynthia Greer,
16 October 2000.)

Despite the global sense of relief and hope that the
nuclear arms race ended with the Cold War, an
increasingly vocal group of politicians, military
officials and leaders of America's nuclear weapon
laboratories are urging the US to develop a new
generation of precision low-yield nuclear weapons.
Rather than deterring warfare with another nuclear
power, however, they suggest these weapons could be
used in conventional conflicts with third-world

Critics argue that adding low-yield warheads to the
world's nuclear inventory simply makes their eventual
use more likely. In fact, a 1994 law currently
prohibits the nuclear laboratories from undertaking
research and development that could lead to a
precision nuclear weapon of less than 5 kilotons (KT),
because "low-yield nuclear weapons blur the
distinction between
nuclear and conventional war."
Last year, Senate Republicans John Warner (R-VA) and
Wayne Allard (R-CO) buried a small provision in the
2001 Defense Authorization Bill that would have
overturned these earlier restrictions. Although the
language in the final Act was watered down, the Energy
and Defense Departments are still required to
undertake a study of low-yield nuclear weapons that
could penetrate deep into the earth before detonating
so as to "threaten hard and deeply buried targets."
Legislation for long-term
research and actual development of low-yield nuclear
weapons will almost certainly be proposed again in the
current session of Congress.

Senators Warner and Allard imagine these nuclear
weapons could be used in small-scale conventional
conflicts against rogue dictators, while leaving most
of the civilian population untouched. As one anonymous
former Pentagon official put it to the Washington Post
last spring, "What's needed now is something that can
threaten a bunker tunneled under 300 meters of granite
without killing the surrounding civilian population."

Statements like these promote the illusion that
nuclear weapons could be used in ways which minimize
their "collateral damage," making them acceptable
tools to be used like conventional weapons.

As described in detail below, however, the use of any
nuclear weapon capable of destroying a buried target
that is otherwise immune to conventional attack will
necessarily produce enormous numbers of civilian
casualties. No earth-burrowing missile can penetrate
deep enough into the earth to contain an explosion
with a nuclear yield even as small as 1 percent of the
kiloton Hiroshima weapon. The explosion simply blows
out a massive crater of radioactive dirt, which rains
down on the local region with an especially intense
and deadly fallout.

Moreover, as Congress understood in 1994, by seeking
to produce usable low-yield nuclear weapons, we risk
blurring the now sharp line separating nuclear and
conventional warfare, and provide legitimacy for other
nations to similarly consider using nuclear weapons in
regional wars.
Conventional Earth-Penetrating Weapons

Fig. 2 The Pentagon has a growing collection of high
precision conventional weapons capable of defeating
hardened targets. In this sled-driven test, the GBU-28
laser guided bomb with its improved BLU-113 warhead
penetrates several meters of reinforced concrete.

Fig. 3 A B2 bomber
releases an unarmed B61-11

earth-penetrating bomb
during tests in Alaska. Despite

falling from an
altitude of 40,000 feet, this bomb burrowed only
approximately 20 feet into the soil. Any
nuclear blast at this shallow depth would not be
contained, and would produce intense local fallout.
Video clips from CNN (2.2MB) and Lockheed Martin
The Pentagon already has a number of conventional
weapons capable of destroying hardened targets buried
within approximately 50 feet of the surface. The most
well-known of these is the GBU-28 developed and
deployed in the final weeks of the air campaign in the
Gulf War. The Air Force was initially unable to
destroy a well-protected bunker north of Baghdad after
repeated direct hits. The 4000 lb GBU-28 was created
from a very heavy surplus Army eight-inch gun tube
filled with
conventional explosive and a modified laser guidance
kit. It destroyed the bunker, which was protected by
more than 30 feet of earth, concrete and hardened
The precision, penetrating capability, and explosive
power of these conventional weapons has improved
dramatically over the last decade, and these trends
will certainly continue. Indeed, the GBU-37 guided
bomb, a successor to the GBU-28, is already thought to
be capable of disabling a silo based ICBM - a target
formerly thought vulnerable only to nuclear attack. In
the near future, the United States will deploy new
classes of hard target penetrators which can land
within one to two meters of their targets.

The B61-11 Nuclear Bomb

However, mini-nuke advocates - mostly coming from the
nuclear weapons labs - argue that low-yield nuclear
weapons should be designed to destroy even deeper
The US introduced an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon
in 1997, the B61-11, by putting the nuclear explosive
from an earlier bomb design into a hardened steel
casing with a new nose cone to provide ground
penetration capability. The deployment was
controversial because of official US policy not to
develop new nuclear weapons. The DOE and the weapons
labs have consistently argued, however, that the
B61-11 is merely a "modification" of an older delivery
system, because it used an existing "physics package."

The earth-penetrating capability of the B61-11 is
fairly limited, however. Tests show it penetrates only
20 feet or so into dry earth when dropped from an
altitude of 40,000 feet. Even so, by burying itself
into the ground before detonation, a much higher
proportion of the explosion energy is transferred to
ground shock compared to a surface bursts. Any attempt
to use it in an urban environment, however, would
result in massive civilian casualties. Even at the low
end of its 0.3-300 kiloton yield range, the nuclear
blast will simply blow out a huge crater of
radioactive material, creating a lethal
gamma-radiation field over a large area.


Just how deep must an underground nuclear explosion be
buried in order for the blast and fallout to be
The US conducted a series of underground nuclear
explosions in the 1960s - the Plowshare tests - to
investigate the possible use of nuclear explosives for
excavation purposes. Those performed prior to the 1963
Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty, such as the Sedan test
shown in Figure 4, were buried at relatively shallow
depths to maximize the size of the crater produced.

Fig. 4 The 100 KT Sedan nuclear explosion, one of the
Plowshares excavation tests, was buried at a depth of
635 feet. The main cloud and base surge are typical of
shallow-buried nuclear explosions. The cloud is highly
contaminated with radioactive dust particles and
produces an intense local fallout.

In addition to the immediate effects of blast, air
shock, and thermal radiation, shallow nuclear
explosions produce especially intense local
radioactive fallout. The fireball breaks through the
surface of the earth, carrying into the air large
amounts of dirt and debris. This material has been
exposed to the intense neutron flux from the nuclear
detonation, which adds to the
radioactivity from the fission products. The cloud
typically consists of a narrow column and a broad base
surge of air filled with radioactive dust which
expands to a radius of over a mile for a 5 kiloton
explosion.1 In the Plowshare tests, roughly 50 percent
of the total radioactivity produced in the explosion
was distributed as local fallout - the other half
being confined to
the highly-radioactive crater.

In order to be fully contained, nuclear explosions at
the Nevada Test Site must be buried at a depth of 650
feet for a 5 kiloton explosive - 1300 feet for a
100-kiloton explosive.2 Even then, there are many
documented cases where carefully sealed shafts
ruptured and released radioactivity to the local

Therefore, even if an earth penetrating missile were
somehow able to drill hundreds of feet into the ground
and then detonate, the explosion would likely shower
the surrounding region with highly radioactive dust
and gas.

Long-Rod Penetration

Fig. 5 Underground nuclear tests must be buried at
large depths and carefully sealed in order to fully
contain the explosion. Shallower bursts produce large
craters and intense local fallout. The situation shown
here is for an explosion with a 1 KT yield and the
depths shown are in feet. Even a 0.1 KT burst must be
buried at a depth of approximately 230 feet to be
fully contained. (Adapted from Terry Wallace, with

It is straightforward to show, however, that the
maximum penetration depth is severely limited if the
missile casing is to remain intact. One can make
reasonably accurate estimates of the penetration depth
based on the well-developed theory of "long-rod
penetration." The fundamental parameter R is the ratio
of the projectile ram pressure to the yield strength
of the material.3 The target material yields, and
penetration occurs, when R is greater than one. For a
steel rod to penetrate concrete, the minimum
velocities for penetration is about one half a
kilometer per second (1100 miles per hour). For
ductile materials, the kinetic energy lost from the
penetrator can deform the target and dig out a
penetration crater.

Fundamentally, however, the depth of penetration is
limited by the yield strength of the penetrator - in
this case, the missile casing. Even for the strongest
materials, impact velocities greater than a few
kilometers per second will substantially deform
and even melt the impactor.

An earth-penetrating nuclear weapon must protect the
warhead and its associated electronics while it
burrows into the ground. This severely limits the
missile to impact velocities of less than about three
kilometers per second for missile cases made from the
very hardest steels. From the theory of "long-rod
penetration," in this limit the maximum possible depth
D of penetration
is proportional to the length and density of the
penetrator and inversely proportional to the density
of the target. The maximum depth of penetration
depends only weakly on the yield strength of the
penetrator.4 For typical values for steel and
concrete, we expect an upper bound to the penetration
depth to be roughly 10 times the missile length, or
about 100 feet for a 10 foot missile. In actual
practice the impact velocity and penetration depth
must be well below this to ensure the missile and its
contents are not severely damaged.

Given these constraints, it is simply not possible for
a kinetic energy weapon to penetrate deeply enough
into the earth to contain a nuclear explosion.

The Weapons Labs and the CTBT

The most vocal proponents of new small-yield weapons
come from the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories,
at Los Alamos and Livermore.

In a 1991 Strategic Affairs article entitled
"Countering the Threat of the Well-armed Tyrant," Los
Alamos weapons analysts Thomas Dowler and Joseph
Howard II, argued that the US has no proportionate
response to a rogue dictator who uses chemical or
biological weapons against US troops. Our smallest
nuclear weapons - those with Hiroshima-size
yields-would be so devastating that no US president
could use them. We would be "self-deterred." To
counter this dilemma, they argued the US should
develop "mininukes," with yields equivalent to 0.01-1
KT: "... nuclear weapons with very low yields could
provide an effective response for countering the enemy
in such a crisis, while not violating the principle of

More recently, in a speech to the Nuclear Security
Decisionmakers Forum, Sandia Laboratory Director Paul
Robinson stated "The US will undoubtedly require a new
nuclear weapon ... because it is realized that the
yields of the weapons left over from the Cold War are
too high for addressing the deterrence requirements of
a multi polar, widely proliferated world. Without
rectifying that situation, we would end up being

A more cynical interpretation of these statements is
that the laboratory staff and leadership simply feel
threatened by the current restrictions on their
activities, and want to generate a new mission (and
the associated funding) to keep them in operation
indefinitely. Indeed, beginning in 1990 with the
collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold
War, there was serious discussion of closing one of
the bomb labs.

Moreover, President Clinton ended US nuclear testing
in 1993, and signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
(CTBT) - a permanent worldwide ban on nuclear testing
- in 1996. Despite the Senate's failure to ratify the
CTBT in 1999, its proponents believe the treaty will
eventually come into force. The major nuclear powers
continue to abide by the world moratorium on nuclear
testing, and even India and Pakistan appear to have
joined the moratorium after their May 1998 nuclear

The nuclear weapons labs are particularly threatened
by the CTBT, since it will probably limit them to
maintaining the stockpile of weapons already in our
arsenal. Keeping young scientists interested in the
weapons program is especially difficult when their
main job is the relatively mundane task of assuring
reliability. The labs desire the challenge of
designing new nuclear weapons, simply for the
scientific and technical training experience the
effort would bring. Hence, there is tremendous
pressure to create a new mission that justifies a new
development program.

But could the US deploy a new low-yield nuclear
earth-penetrating weapon without testing it? Under
continued political pressure to support the Test Ban
and its related Stockpile Stewardship Program, Los
Alamos Associate Director Steve
Younger has stated, "one could design and deploy a new
set of nuclear weapons that do not require nuclear
testing to be certified. However, ... such simple
devices would be based on a very limited nuclear test

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that a warhead
capable of performing such an extraordinary mission as
destroying a deeply buried and hardened bunker could
be deployed without full-scale testing. First, even if
the missile casing were able to
withstand the high-velocity ground impact, the warhead
"physics package" and accompanying electronics must
function under extreme conditions. The primary device
must detonate and produce a reliable yield shortly
after suffering an intense shock deceleration. Second,
there must be great confidence that the actual nuclear
yield is not greater than expected. Since the natural
energy scale for a fission nuclear weapon is of order
10 KT, much lower yield weapons must be sensitive to
exacting design tolerances; the final yield is
determined by an exponentially growing number of
fission-produced neutrons, so the total number of
neutron generations must be finely-tuned. Given that
these weapons may be used near population centers, it
thus seems highly unlikely that designers could
certify a low-yield warhead without actually testing

What would be the consequence if the US decides to go
ahead and test a new generation of nuclear weapons? As
House Democrats expressed in a letter to Rep. Ike
Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House
Armed Services Committee, "The resumption of nuclear
test explosions that will result from such a program
involving nuclear weapons would decrease
rather than increase our national security and
undermine US and international non-proliferation
If the US abandons the moratorium, Russia and China
will almost certainly respond in kind - destroying
prospects for eventual passage of the CTBT.


Proponents of building a new generation of small
nuclear weapons have seldom been specific about
situations where nuclear devices would be able to
perform a unique mission. The one clear scenario is
using these warheads as a substitute for conventional
weapons to attack deeply buried facilities. Based on
the analysis here, however, this mission does not
appear possible without causing massive radioactive
contamination. No American president would elect to
use nuclear weapons in this situation - unless another
country had already used nuclear weapons against us.

The end of the Cold War should allow us to place
further limits on the development and use of nuclear
weapons. The danger of moving from a conventional to a
nuclear war is so enormous, that the US refrained from
using nuclear weapons in Korea even when US troops
were in danger of being overwhelmed. Attempts to
develop a new generation of low-yield nuclear weapons
would only make nuclear war more likely, and they seem
cynically designed to provide legitimacy to nuclear
testing -steps that would return us to the dangers of
Cold War nuclear competition, but with a larger number
of nations participating.

Robert W. Nelson, a theoretical physicist who works on
technical arms control issues, is on the research
staff of Princeton University and a consultant to FAS.

still with me? next from Jane's Defence Weekly:

Jane's Defence Weekly 16/01/2001
British Army seeks bunker buster
Christopher F Foss JDW Land Forces Editor
Additional reporting
Paul Beaver JDW Special Correspondent

A number of contractors in Europe and the USA
submitted expressions of interest to the UK's Defence
Procurement Agency (DPA) late last year for the
British Army's unfunded requirement for the
development and manufacture of an Infantry
Anti-Structures Weapon (IASW) system.
Jane's Defence Weekly understands that one of the
possible warhead types under consideration for the
IASW is of the thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) type
which would be highly effective against bunkers and a
variety of other targets. The Defence Evaluation and
Research Agency has been studying this type of warhead
for several years. The use of thermobaric weapons by
Russian forces in Chechnya has been widely criticised
by human rights groups.
The IASW would be used by dismounted infantry to
neutralise a variety of targets that provide cover for
threat infantry such as bunkers, buildings and other
Key operational requirements of the projected IASW
include the ability to be fired from within a confined
space; the ability to be deployed and fired by one
person; the capability of penetrating the structure
and exploding inside; and having an effective range of
at least 150m and weighing no more than 10kg. The
system will have a blast warhead for maximum target
To save costs, it is probable that this will be an
off-the-shelf solution and the UK is looking to
acquire a complete system which will include not only
the weapon but also a complete training package. It is
also possible that a modified existing weapon could be
offered for the IASW requirement.
Today, UK infantry units have no specialised weapons
to engage bunkers and buildings that are likely to be
encountered in increasing numbers. They would have to
use the 1,950m-range Euromissile MILAN anti-tank
guided missile (ATGM) and the 400m-range Hunting
Engineering LAW 80 for this role. Both of these have a
high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead that are not
optimised for this role and neither can be fired from
within a building.
There are, however, some concerns from human rights
organisations about the possible fielding of
thermobaric weapons although they have been offered on
the export market by Eastern European countries for
some years.
A typical thermobaric warhead utilises an advanced
form of the fuel-air explosive concept. The contents
of the warhead are scattered in aerosol form on impact
and then ignited to create a rapidly -formed,
high-pressure blast wave which neutralises the target
Following early combat experience in Afghanistan that
showed up the shortcomings in using existing anti-tank
weapons to combat bunkers and other field
fortifications, Russia developed thermobaric warheads
for a number of its weapons.
These include the Kornet (maximum range 5,500m) and
Metis-M (maximum range 1,500m) ATGM which have been
offered on the export market for some years. The user
has the option of a missile with a HEAT warhead or a
thermobaric warhead, depending on the target to be
The KBP Instrument Design Bureau has also developed
the Shmel 'infantry rocket flame thrower' with the
RPO-A version using a thermobaric warhead which is
claimed to be as effective as a 122mm or 152mm
artillery projectile. Thermobaric warheads are also
available for use with the widely deployed Russian
developed RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade system.
Russia also built and fielded in small numbers the
TOS-1 rocket system mounted on a modified T-72 tank
chassis. This has a roof-mounted turret with 30 220mm
tubes, each of which can launch a rocket with a
thermobaric warhead to a maximum range of 3,500m.

one more: from One World News Service:

The U.S. will neither confirm nor deny but the public
has a right to know

9th Febuary 1998
by Felicity Arbuthnot

With the U.S. and Britain poised to begin an intense
aerial bombardment of Iraq, there has been little
mention of the consequences it would have for the
health and environment of the Iraqi people and for the
region as a whole. Recently, Russian President Boris
Yeltsin expressed concern that an overly aggressive US
posture at a time of high tensions is extremely
dangerous, with possible wider ramifications beyond
the region.
Once again, we are seeing a vast buildup of weaponry
in the region, with some new additions that set a
dangerous precedent. There has been mention in recent
media reports of 'bunker busting' weapons and
'deep-penetration' bombs that the US has spent huge
sums in perfecting. The US tested new weapons in
warfare before, and specifically against Iraq in 1991
when hundreds of tons of U-238 so-called depleted
uranium bullets and shells were fired from A-10
aircraft, attack helicopters and tanks, littering the
landscape with radioactive debris.
There exists the possibility that the US forces will
once again test their latest military technologies on
Iraq. On November 15, 1995, at a meeting of the
Nuclear Weapons Council Standing Safety Committee in
the US, a request was made to accelerate the
completion date of the B61-11 to December 1996. The B
61-11 is the nuclear version of the deep-penetrating
bomb, destroying its intended target underground by
means of a nuclear explosion. it was developed and
deployed without congressional approval despite
assurances that no new nuclear weapons were being
developed in the US.
There are other tactical nuclear weapons in the B-61
seies, for example, the B-61 models 3,4,and 10 that
are already deployed in NATO countries and at bases in
Turkey, the country of closest proximity to Iraq.
According to Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford
University, the B61-11 was specifically designed to
destroy the deepest and most hardened of underground
bunkers, which the conventional bunker-busting bombs
mentioned recently in the press are incapable of
destroying. The dangers of such a weapon include shock
waves leading to seismic activity and the release of
high level radioactive elements.
There is a tradition of covering up the use of
radioactive weapons. The public did not find out about
the use of U-238 'depleted uranium'weapons until after
the Gulf War. Their use was discovered because of
'friendly fire' incidents, when allied tanks
mistakenly fired U-238 projectiles at other allied
tanks. Presently, the US military is monitoring the
radioactive breakdown of depleted uranium shrapnel
lodged inside the bodies of US troops. Depleted
uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. There is
now a fivefold increase of cancers in Iraq.
Depleted uranium weaponry have been condemned as
weapons of mass destruction by the United Nations
Sub-Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination
and Protection of Minorities. (SC 1997-36).
The US has not ruled out the possibility of using the
new earth penetrating B61-11 bomb that can be attached
to a B2 bomber or is light enough to be carried on F16
aircraft. Recent history has shown that previously
unheard-of weapon systems have been used, and in the
confusion and immediacy of warfare, circumstances lead
to uncontrolled excalation and accidents.
It is not the right of powerful countries to test
their new weapons systems on Third World Countries, or
on those countries that are considered 'rogue' states
today, but that were economic and strategic partners
in the recent past. And it is clear that civilians -
men, women, and children - will be killed, despite
claims of new, 'accurate' weapons being used.
It is not the right of powerful countries to use their
military might to apply pressure on the timetable of
negotiations when so much is at stake. The Iraqi
people are desperate; 1.2 million children, according
to UNICEF, have died as a result of sanctions.


A Comment:

That the murderous labors of the merchants of death can reach the point
where humans-----even after the unconscionable and godless horror of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the massive tagedy of Chernobyl that showered with
nuclear fallout all Europe, and the disastrous use of depleted uranium
shells in the Gulf War that made Iraq radioactive and U.S. servicemen living
vegetables, suffering and dying from the still denied "Gulf War
Syndrome"-----are willing and capable of planning, building, deploying, and
using new and ever new versions of the nuclear holocaust, is more than
mind-boggling and such a shocking piece of news that we only hope it cannot
be true. However, the greed for gain that rules our hearts makes everybody
blind and insane, and if U.S. politics is truly what it seems, and the
absolutely reckless use of nuclear energy, even for purposes of mass
destruction, is as rampant in the minds of U.S. planners and military people
as is undeniably the case, not only our own American future, but future of
all mankind may be doomed.

It is truly unfathomable that humanity is incapable of learning one simple
truism----one for which even the wild beast of the forest have a much better
understanding-----the basic law of physics, that "action is followed by
reaction". Is it not clear nowadays that whatever we do to others, it will
surely come back to hit us? That we cannot wantonly poison the planet,
without-----dying? That we cannot throw bombs upon other people, without
getting hit by bombs ourselves? That throwing nukes upon "rogue nations"
(what a racist, fascist term----how shall then others call us,
Americans----subhuman, biestly, insane savages, perhaps?) will only make
those nations, or others, do the same-----to us??

Are we truly so insane, so maddened with power, oppression, inhumanity, and
greed, that we are determined to go down the road to mutually assured
destruction? Have we not understood yet what our opponents are capable of
doing? "When will we ever learn?"

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