Saturday, October 02, 2004

Suprise: Kerry 'Misled' on BunkerBusters

Hugh Hewitt wants bloggers’ opinions as to whether Kerry made a mistake in denouncing the nuclear bunker buster project.

Here’s what Kerry said about the project:
And part of that leadership is sending the right message to places like North Korea.
Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense.
You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.
Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation.

I think there are several things wrong with Kerry’s statement.
For one thing, we’re not committed to a strict policy of nuclear deterrence. First-use is an option, and a defensible one, if that extreme is the only possible way to secure destruction of a rogue state’s WMD arsenal.

And do we really want the State Department to have a veto over the Pentagon design teams? “You can’t build weapons specifically targeting their strengths, it sends a hostile message!”

And while the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty has been weakened by the growing number of states entering the nuclear club, the existence of the formal treaty is a powerful resource for American diplomacy. Kerry simply ignores it, and cynically assumes that if we build up we grant anybody and everybody the right to build up. Once again, John Kerry would give the enemy the gift of US surrender to their desires, a prize they could not secure through their own efforts.

But these objections pale against the fundamental flaw in Kerry’s statement: there are no efforts to research a new set of nuclear weapons. We’re examining our existing arsenal to see if it can be altered for deep penetration missions. And the answer appears to be negative.

In 1997 the Clinton Pentagon announced a modification of the B61 nuclear bomb, the B61-11. This slim weapon is designed to bury itself in 20 feet of soil before exploding, which would channel much of the explosive energy of the warhead into the ground. There would be radioactive earth thrown into the air, causing surface devastation and fallout, but to a lesser degree than with a surface burst.

However, the B61-11 cannot penetrate rock or destroy bunkers deeply buried in granite. To explore new modifications of other existing nuclear weapons, the Bush Administration launched the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator program. This is apparently the program to which Senator Kerry was referring.

Here’s what Globalsecurity.org says about the problems of bunker-busting:

Destroying a target buried 1,000 feet into rock would require a nuclear weapon with the yield of 100 kilotons. That is 10 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Even the effects of a small bomb would be dramatic. A 1-kiloton nuclear weapon detonated 20 to 50 feet underground would dig a crater the size of Ground Zero in New York and eject 1 million cubic feet of radioactive debris into the air. Detonating a similar weapon on the surface of a city would kill a quarter of a million people and injure hundreds of thousands more.
Nuclear weapons cannot be engineered to penetrate deeply enough to prevent fallout. Based on technical analysis at the Nevada Test Site, a weapon with a 10-kiloton yield must be buried deeper than 850 feet to prevent spewing of radioactive debris. Yet a weapon dropped from a plane at 40,000 feet will penetrate less than 100 feet of loose dirt and less than 30 feet of rock. Ultimately, the depth of penetration is limited by the strength of the missile casing. The deepest our current earth penetrators can burrow is 20 feet of dry earth. Casing made of even the strongest material cannot withstand the physical forces of burrowing through 100 feet of granite, much less 850 feet.

Right now we can’t throw anything deeper than 100 feet, at best. The Pentagon is trying to figure out what sort of warhead could be detonated at a depth of 100 ft for the best result. The article continues:

By direction of the Nuclear Weapons Council, and in response to an Air Force requirement, the initial focus of the Advanced Concepts Program will be the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, for which $15.5 million was requested in FY 2003 as part of the Directed Stockpile Research and Development activity. The three-year RNEP Feasibility Study will assess the feasibility of modifying one of two candidate nuclear weapons currently in the stockpile to provide enhanced penetration capability into hard rock geologies and develop out-year costs for the subsequent production phases, if a decision is made by the Nuclear Weapons Council to proceed. This work complies with existing legislation, including section 3136 of the FY 1994 National Defense Authorization Act. The FY 2003 budget contains no other funds for Phase 6.X advanced concept study activities. The Congress authorized the budget request of $15 million for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, but prohibited expenditure of these funds until the Secretary of Defense submits a report setting forth: 1) the military requirements for the RNEP; 2) the nuclear weapons employment policy for the RNEP; 3) the detailed categories or types of targets that the RNEP is designed to hold at risk; and 4) an assessment of the ability of conventional weapons to address the same types of categories of targets that the RNEP is designed to hold at risk.
The FY2004 budget request for the Advanced Concepts program ($21m) included $15 million allocated to the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. This program will examine whether or not two existing warheads in the stockpile -- the B61 and the B83 -- can be sufficiently hardened through case modifications and other work to allow the weapons to survive penetration into various geologies, with high reliability, before detonating.

So the President could truthfully say:
“Senator Kerry is wrong. We’re not researching a new set of nuclear weapons. We’re continuing the work done by the Clinton Administration to see if our existing nuclear arsenal is good for anything but destroying entire cities. Congress and I want an answer. It may be ‘no’. In which case I will turn to other avenues, such as direct-energy weapons, to deny our enemies a safe haven within the bowels of the earth. Senator Kerry worries about the message we send to rogue nations. It is clear: there is no hole deep enough to hide in.”

That would challenge Kerry to explain why Clinton approved a nuclear bunker-buster; debate whether direct-energy weapons are an acceptable alternative to nukes; and offer his own concept for destruction of deep bunkers. It would probably elicit the usual dodge: after Kerry becomes Super-Senator he will convoke an international committee to solve the problem. The more often he uses that dodge, the better for Bush.

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