HOW MUCH PENETRATION IS ENOUGH?

(Editor's note: let's get the giggles out of the way up front. 'Penetration.' Snicker.)

As most sentient beings have realized since mid-2005, war with Iran is essentially inevitable. Our Leader is "not prepared to leave the situation unresolved" and he's now touring VFW halls (ooh…tough crowd!) using the pre-Iraq fearmongering script almost word-for-word. But aside from the generalized concept of "war with Iran" and "another clusterfuck" I doubt many people have considered what's actually going to happen when the inevitable decision to attack is made.

First, let's lay out a couple of basic facts. Iran has no nuclear weapons at the moment. The surest proof is that Israel is not on fire. What they do have is a nuclear energy program, from which the imaginative mind (and thank god we have plenty of those at the top!) could extrapolate that they are enriching uranium (or, less likely, plutonium) for weapons use. Second, thanks to the four years of wasted resources and energy in Iraq, the American military is in no position to sustain another massive ground-war-and-occupation mission in an even more hostile country. So what are we going to see? Airstrikes. Lots of things falling from the sky and exploding. Because nothing says "AEI-funded warmonger with no balls" quite like lobbing cruise missiles from a few hundred miles away.

The linchpin of the Iranian nuclear program is the Natanz fuel enrichment site. I encourage you, rather than breezing past the link, to look at this map for a moment. If Iran is in fact attempting to build nuclear weapons, eliminating their ability to enrich weapons-grade U-235 is the surest way to quickly cripple the program. While enrichment could technically take place at a number of sites in Iran, there is little doubt that any such activity is centered around Natanz. Why? It's a huge and extraordinarily well-defended site. It's in the middle of nowhere and it's hardened. The majority of the facility, as the maps show you, is underground. It is at least 25 feet underground, covered by a thick layer of reinforced concrete and as much as 60 feet of compacted earth.

How would an airstrike reach such a well-protected target? Well, our friends in the military-industrial complex have created some neat toys that the media call "bunker-busting" bombs. Unfortunately, the limits of the most powerful of these weapons mean that destroying Natanz might still be difficult or impossible. The claimed limit of the top dog GBU-28 is "100 feet of earth or 20 feet of solid concrete." I see an "or" and not a "both", and the word "reinforced" is conspicuously absent prior to "concrete." No one can be certain just how hardened the Natanz facility is, but it's safe to say that the Iranians built it with an understanding of American strike capabilities.

So let's call the ability to destroy the site with "bunker busting" bombs questionable at best. For a President who "isn't prepared to leave the situation unresolved" that doesn't seem good enough. Fortunately the military has some other options.

While the "Robust Earth Penetrator" nuclear weapon project was cancelled in 2005, Jane's argues that it was simply continued under a different name or in the black budget. The other less-shadowy option is the B61 mk11 warhead, which has proven able to penetrate deep into the earth and destroy targets "several hundred feet" below ground in the ensuing nuclear blast. These two weapons, one rumored but the other quite real, are the only manner by which a hardened facility like Natanz could be destroyed with certainty.

So. In review.

  • The President is determined to strike Iran
  • The President's stated reason is the fear of Iranian nuclear weapons
  • Iran's nuclear program, assuming it exists, would progress only as quickly as its ability to manufacture U-235 through enrichment
  • The Natanz enrichment facility is the cornerstone of Iran's capability to enrich uranium
  • Natanz is hardened to the point that conventional weapons may not be able to destroy it
  • Weapons in the American nuclear arsenal are capable of destroying Natanz.

    Alright. Now, given that sequence of facts, what do you think is going to happen when we decide to strike Iran? Think we'll just skip Natanz? Or stick with the conventional bombs that probably can't destroy it? Let me call Vegas and get some odds on that.

    So please keep in mind at all times that what we're hearing right now is not a run-up to war, it's a run-up to nuclear war.

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  • 3 Responses to “HOW MUCH PENETRATION IS ENOUGH?”

    1. -h Says:

      Great post Ed. Just one comment regarding the hostility issue: Iranians are arguably the *least* hostile towards Americans in the whole region. The government spits out its propaganda and organizes the rallies that we see and read about (I actually took part in a few of those mandatory 'protests' as a school-kid when they would make us memorize the script and march us through the streets, chanting and pumping our fists in the air), but the people are generally not hostile towards Americans; in fact it's quite the opposite.

      In the neighboring Arab states you find "friendly" governments but a generally anti-American sentiment on the street… and it's the exact opposite in Persian Iran.

      In my opinion, too many of my fellow countrymen (the majority of whom are under 35) have a naive view of America, which often translates into an incredibly annoying, ass-kissing, apologist, FOB-ish "i love amerika" behavior anytime they encounter an American tourist.

      But I'm sure all of that sentiment will disappear as soon as the first mushroom cloud goes up…

      It's amazing that Bush and company would actually deliver such a huge win to the crooked mullahs in Tehran… Those bastards can't wait for an American attack to occur. Anytime they start to feel like they might be losing their grip, they stir shit up and wait for the "external threat" to come along and strengthen their position.

      Sounds oddly familiar.

    2. Nick Says:

      Well, at least we'll get to watch everything burn before we all die. That could be entertaining for a few minutes.

    3. J. Dryden Says:

      Is anyone else kind of silently reciting the last few lines of Yeats's "The Second Coming" to themselves? Just me, on this?