(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.
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.