MOPping Up: The USA’s 30,000 Pound GBU-57 Bomb
October 19/15: Boeing’s GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) will undergo a second phase redesign, known as the Enhanced Threat Reduction IV, with a contract anticipated soon . With no plans to competitively procure the weapon, the next GBU-57 contract – expected to be for the redesign, qualification and testing of the weapon – will be a sole-course acquisition. The bunker-busting bomb has been in development since 2004, with early tests conducted by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The hard-penetrating weapon is intended to be carried on B-2A Spirit stealth bombers, thought to be capable of carrying two of the weapons in internal bays.
During the Second World War, attacking heavily protected targets like U-boat pens and protected “V-weapon” facilities was a key challenge. Enter a brilliant British engineer named Barnes Wallis, fresh off the dam-busting “Upkeep” bouncing bomb. His next trick was a 12,000 pound weapon called the “Tallboy,” a streamlined, spin-stabilized bomb with a claimed terminal velocity of Mach 1 when dropped from 20,000 feet. That mass, carrying 5,200 pounds of Torpex D1 explosive, made a crater 80 feet deep x 100 feet across when it hit. By 1945, Wallis’ next “Earthquake bomb” was in production – the 22,000 pound “Grand Slam.” His creations made short work of U-boat pens.
These bombs went out of fashion with the advent of nuclear weapons, but if you wait long enough, fashion comes around again. Enter the USA’s new GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP). Despite additional funding, and October promises of accelerated deployment, the MOP did not arrive by mid-2010, as planned. Development continues, however, including a set of upgrades ordered in 2012 that are aimed at closing the gap against specific targets…
The MOP Program
The GBU-57A/B MOP project began in 2004 as a proof of technology demonstration, with early tests conducted by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency that focuses on securing and cooperatively destroying nuclear materials and bio-chemical weapons. With the FY 2006 demise of the RNEP nuclear bunker-buster program, MOP stepped into the spotlight as a way to address advancing trends. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman:
“The threats have been developing over the years… There are, without getting into any intelligence, there are countries that have used technologies to go further under ground and to take those facilities and make them hardened. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell adds:
“The reality is that the world we live in is one in which there are people who seek to build weapons of mass destruction, and they seek to do so in a clandestine fashion,” he said. “And this has been a capability that we have long believed was missing from our quiver, our arsenal, and we wanted to make sure we filled in that gap.”
MOP flight tests began in 2008, and in February 2010, the DTRA MOP Technology Demonstration transitioned to the USAF as a Quick Reaction Capability Program. Most MOPs produced have been used in test, and a 2012 contract aimed at a sequence of upgrades. Those upgrades were reportedly tested in 2013.
Northrop Grumman is the B-2A prime contractor, and leads the MOP integration effort. Boeing Company is the prime contractor to produce the MOP, and will also be the B-52 fleet integrator. They serve as a subcontractor to Northrop Grumman for the B-2 integration effort.
This 30,000 pound weapon is approximately 31.5 inches in diameter and 20.5 feet long, with about the same amount of explosives inside as Wallis’ Tallboy (5,300 pounds). It isn’t the biggest bomb the USA has ever built – the 44,000 pound T12 has that distinction – but it could well become the biggest conventional bomb ever used. Even the famous GBU-43 MOAB (Mother Of All Bombs) thermobaric weapon weighs in at only 21,000 pounds.
Unlike the MOAB, however, this project’s goal is a GPS-guided, hard-penetrating weapon that can be carried aboard B-2A Spirit bombers to defeat “a specialized set of hard and deeply buried targets” like bunkers and tunnel facilities. Some graphics show expectations of over 60 feet of concrete destroyed, and a USAF article stated that the bomb was meant to penetrate 200 feet underground before exploding.
That may have been revised upward in the 2012 upgrade, which tried to address perceived shortfalls against known targets. Upgrades reportedly include more precise guidance through undisclosed means, adjustment of the detonator fuze to withstand impact with layers of granite and steel, and the ability to reject guidance-jamming attempts and operate in “contested environments.”
About 8 operational GBU-57s have been publicly ordered to date, and a number of bomb bodies and flight test weapons have been detonated in tests.
The B-2A will be able to carry 2 MOPs: one in each bay, mounted to the existing forward and aft mounting hardware.
The B-52H Stratofortress has been used in tests, but it won’t be used operationally. Any target you’d want to use an MOP on will be very heavily defended, and a B-52 run would lend new meaning to the term “suicide bomber.”
Contracts and Key Events
The program would appear to be in the late stages of weapon development and testing, with very slow low-rate production orders, and an ongoing parallel improvement program that may clear the way for more orders soon.
Second Phase Redesign.
October 19/15: Boeing’s GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) will undergo a second phase redesign, known as the Enhanced Threat Reduction IV, with a contract anticipated soon. With no plans to competitively procure the weapon, the next GBU-57 contract – expected to be for the redesign, qualification and testing of the weapon – will be a sole-course acquisition. The bunker-busting bomb has been in development since 2004, with early tests conducted by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The hard-penetrating weapon is intended to be carried on B-2A Spirit stealth bombers, thought to be capable of carrying two of the weapons in internal bays.
FY 2011 – 2013
Low-Rate Initial Production; William J. Perry award; Pause for improvement; Fordow and Bust.
June 7/13: Jerusalem Post:
“In an effort to show Israel and other ally states that it is capable of striking Iran’s nuclear plants, the US has recently conducted a test of its bunker buster bomb, destroying a replica of an underground nuclear facility, Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot reported on Friday.
The nuclear facility replica, that cost millions of dollars to build, was made of concrete and buried under dozens of feet of dirt and rocks, Yediot reported.”
May 3/13: Fordow & Bust. The Wall Street Journal reports that the GBU-57 MOP upgrades (q.v. April 12/12) are specifically designed to enable the destruction of Iran’s underground Fordow uranium enrichment plant near the city of Qom. Improvements reportedly include better guidance through undisclosed means, adjustment of the detonator fuze to withstand impact with layers of granite and steel, and the ability to reject guidance-jamming attempts and operate in “contested environments.”
April 12/12: Contract. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a maximum $98.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee and firm-fixed-priced contract “to procure enhanced threat response redesign for the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a quick reaction capability program.” Translation: the enemy is tougher, so it needs to be badder.
Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is to be complete by March 30/14. The AAC/EBDK/EDBJ at Eglin Air Force Base, FL manages this contract (FA868109-C-0280, PO 0034).
Feb 7/12: Contract. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives an $18.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee and firm-fixed-priced items contract for accelerated MOP effort, regression testing, and a fuze risk reduction effort. Work will take place in Saint Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete by Feb 28/13. The AAC/EDBK/EDBJ at Eglin AFB, FL manages the contract (FA8681-09-C-0280, PO 0030).
Jan 27/12: Better MOP needed. The Wall Street Journal reports that:
“…initial tests indicated that [MOP], as currently configured, would not be capable of destroying some of Iran’s facilities, either because of their depth or because Tehran has added new fortifications to protect them… [prompting] the Pentagon this month to secretly submit a [$82 million] request to Congress to enhance the bomb’s ability to penetrate deeper… before exploding.”
Jan 17/12: Recognition. Members of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator program team from the USAF, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Boeing Company receive the 16th annual William J. Perry Award for the MOP.
The award is named in honor of former Secretary of Defense Dr. William J. Perry (1994-1997) and recognizes exceptional contributions to precision strike systems in the private or public sector by an individual or team. USAF.
William J. Perry award
Aug 2/11: Contract. Boeing in St Louis, MO receives a $32.1 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for an aircraft closure redesign; plus 8 MOPs, 16 separation nuts; and 8 MOP loading adapters. Work will be performed at St. Louis, MO. The Air Armament Center EBDK/EBDJ at Eglin Air Force Base, FL manages the contract (FA8681-09-C-0280, PO0022).
April 7/11: Low rate production begins. Boeing in St Louis, MO receives a $28.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for 8 massive ordnance penetrators, 16 separation nuts, 8 MOP loading adapters, and an aft closure redesign. Work will be performed at St. Louis, MO. The ACC/EDBK/EDBJ in Eglin Air Force Base, FL manages the contract (FA8681-09-C-0280, P00019).
Feb 8/11: Boeing in St Louis, MO receives a $15.2 million contract modification for additional Massive Ordnance Penetrator Integration to include flight test support, 3 additional test assets, an alternative/modified fuse design, and 16 fuses. At this time, $6 million has been committed by the AAC/EBDK/EBDJ – MOP Tiger Team at Eglin Air Force base, FL (FA8681-09-C-0280, P00016).
It would appear that the December 2010 goal has not been met.
FY 2007 – 2010
Contract for 8 more test weapons; Testing work; Pentagon tries to accelerate the program, but it ends up being late.
Aug 9/10: Contract. Boeing Co. in St Louis, MO receives a $20.3 million contract modification to provide 8 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) “extended user evaluation assets”: 8 MOP warheads, 8 MOP toolkits, 8 MOP loading adapters; 8 carriage and release equipment sets; 16 separation nuts; 16 fuzes; and 4 separation nut simulators, with associated proposal preparation charges. At this time, $10 million has been committed by the AAC/EDBK at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (FA8681-09-C-0280; P00009).
8 Test MOPs
Dec 20/09: An email from a Pentagon spokesperson confirms that despite the funds for accelerated fielding, the MOP program will deliver about 6 months late. Tara Rigler is quoted as saying that:
“Funding delays and enhancements to the planned test schedule have pushed the capability availability date to December 2010,” [instead of mid-2010].
The Pentagon added that despite the successful B-52 test flight with an inert MOP over White Sands Missile Range, NM on Dec 15/09, they do not plan to use older B-52 Stratofortress bombers as an operational delivery platform for the MOP. Probably because the kinds of facilities you’d want to use an MOP on, are going to be some of a nation’s most prized – and in all likelihood, highly defended – assets. Reuters | The Peninsula of Qatar | Iran’s Press TV.
Oct 8/09: A Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman briefs reporters on the MOP, acknowledging that Congress had approved the redirection of $52 million to accelerate its fielding to mid-2010. Pentagon Armed Forces Press Service:
“The department has been “working on technology that allows us to get at deeply buried, hardened targets” since 2004… Development of the bomb has taken longer than originally envisioned because of variables in the budget process, Whitman said, adding that it is now back “on track.”
…Therefore, he said, the department decided to develop a new penetrator bomb, which should be ready by next summer [summer 2010]. Although there was no “urgent” reason to develop the new bomb, defense planners recognized the need to obtain it, Whitman said. Such a weapon is “an important capability to have,” he said.”
Oct 2/09: Contract. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corporation of St. Louis, MO received a $51.9 million contract to provide Massive Ordnance Penetrator Integration on B-2 test aircraft. At this time $32.15 million has been committed by the 708 ARSG/PK at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (FA8681-09-C-0280, P00002).
Aug 18/09: Contract. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corporation in St. Louis, MO received a $12.5 million cost plus fixed-fee contract with performance incentives to provide for 3 Massive Ordnance Penetrator separation test vehicles, associated aircraft and handling equipment, and technical support for one single and one dual release separation and de-conflict test on the B-52 aircraft.
In English, they’re going to test MOP drops on the B-52, in order to ensure safe and dependable drops when releasing either 1 or 2 MOPs. At this time $6.2 million has been committed by the AAC/708th ARSG PK at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (FA8681-09-C-0280, P00001).
Aug 17/09: UPI reports that the U.S. Defense Department says it wants to accelerate the MOP program, asking Congress for the necessary funding to ensure that it would be ready by July 2010. UPI adds that both US Central Command, which covers the middle east, and the Pacific Command, which covers North Korea, have endorsed the speed up.
July 16/09: Contract. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corporation in St. Louis, MO received a $12.1 million contract “to provide massive ordnance penetrator on B-2 platform.” At this time, $6 million has been obligated. The AAC/708th at Eglin Air Force Base, FL manages the contract (FA8681-09-C-0280).
April 28/09: A USAF team, a Northrop Grumman-led aircraft contractor team, and a Boeing-led weapon contractor team verify that the equipment required to integrate the new MOP on the B-2 will fit together properly inside the aircraft. This includes the hardware that holds the MOP inside the weapons bay, the weapon itself, and the hardware used by the aircrew to command and release the weapon.
The checks were conducted at Whiteman Air Force Base, MO using a high-fidelity MOP mockup and the B-2 Weapons Load Trainer, a device that simulates the interior size and shape of the aircraft’s weapons bays. Northrop Grumman release.
Oct 23/08: Boeing announces a July 2008 test, in which a new fuze well design allowed a Small Diameter Bomb fuze in an 1,800-pound warhead to survive “a supersonic impact into high-strength reinforced concrete and soil” at Holloman AFB. Research partners included Applied Research Associates (ARA), L-3 KDI Precision Products, and Ellwood National Forge Co.
The design is the result of data collected from a 2006 test at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, when Boeing propelled a 1,800-pound penetrator warhead at more than 2,300 feet per second through high-strength reinforced concrete. Steve Vukelich, director of Special Programs at Boeing says that “This design concept can be incorporated into existing weapon fuzes and [is] currently being considered for a number of advanced weapons.”
Feb 6/08: The Register reports that the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) will now be dropped for the first time from a B-52 Stratofortress bomber in June 2008, in a test originally scheduled for August 2007.
The problems apparently stem from the bomb rack. It has proved impossible to hang the MOP from existing racks, and a whole new subsystem has had to be designed, reportedly pushing program costs up by $10 million and causing a 10-month delay.
Dec 18/07: A team of weapons specialists at Whiteman AFB, home of the USA’s B-2 stealth bomber fleet, loaded a 20-foot long, 700 pound mock MOP into a B-2 bomb bay replica that’s used for training purposes. Interesting comment by weapons loader Tech. Sgt. Jason Hermann of the 509th Maintenance Group:
“I couldn’t help but notice how enormous the bomb was hanging in the weapons bay. It looked much larger once we had loaded it into the weapons bay than when it was on the loading adapter.”
See USAF article: “B-2, MOP A Devastating Combo.”
March 14/07: Boeing announced that on a MOP bomb body successfully completed a static tunnel lethality test (i.e. “there’s supposed to be an earth-shattering ka-boom!”) on this day at White Sands Missile Range, NM.
- WIRED Danger Room (Oct 12/10) – Europe’s HARDBUT Missile Is Your Ultimate Penetrator. Who in MBDA named this one? Don’t ask (don’t tell).
- Pentagon AFPS (Oct 8/09) – New Bomb Has ‘Important Capability,’ DoD Official Says
- USAF (Dec 21/07) – B-2, MOP A Devastating Combo