The U.S. Air Force will pay Boeing nearly $21 million to build more of the service’s heaviest conventional bomb, the GBU-57/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, following successful tests of a new variant that includes an improved fuze. The huge bunker busters would be an essential component of any strike against North Korea, including a limited operation to try and neutralize its ballistic missile and nuclear weapon capabilities, as well as missions against other potential adversaries with extensive subterranean military infrastructure, such as Iran or China.
The Air Force announced the contract award on Feb. 8, 2018, on the U.S. government’s main contracting website, FedBizOpps, while the Pentagon confirmed it in a routine press release on the same day. The notices do not say how many individual bombs Boeing will build, but note that the company will perform the work entirely at its facilities in St. Louis Missouri and that it should have delivered all of the new MOPs by July 31, 2020. An earlier 2011 contract worth approximately $28 million had paid for eight of the 33,000 pound bombs, but also included orders for various parts and accessories, as well as a redesign of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber’s rear bomb bay to accommodate the munition. The B-2 is the only platform that would employ the weapon in combat.
In addition, this new contract will almost certainly be production versions of the latest version of the MOP, also known as the GBU-57D/B, which would have a different individual unit cost than earlier types. In January 2018, Bloomberg was first to report that the Air Force had already put examples of this variant into operational service, following a series of tests in 2017.
The Air Force is especially tight-lipped about the MOP program in general, but thanks to yet another contract notice from 2015, we do know that the GBU-57D/B design at least included a modified fuze. This component is particularly important for bunker buster-type bombs, which have various specific features to strike at facilities and other targets buried beneath significant layers of hardened material.
If the fuze detonates the bomb’s main explosive charge too early, or fails to function at all, it is unlikely to cause the desired damage. At the same time, building such a system that can withstand the shock of falling from high altitude and then slamming through multiple layers of reinforced concrete or other similar barriers is no easy task.
In 2017, the Air Force began ordering new BLU-137/B 2,000-pound class bunker busters for much the same reason. The major improvement in these bombs over the older BLU-109-series, which have been in service since the 1990s, is a more reliable fuzing mechanism.
But these much smaller bombs are only supposed to be able to break through approximately four to six feet of reinforced concrete. Available public information suggests that the MOP’s components are supposed to survive burrowing down at least 10 times this distance into hardened targets, which would require a much more robust fuzing system to begin with. It’s not surprising that the Air Force has been interested in having Boeing continue working to make sure it is as reliable as possible.
Read more: thedrive