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Pentagon upgrades 'bunker buster' bomb in attempt to penetrate key Iran nuke site

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In this 2007 file photo the Massive Ordnance Penetrator conventional bomb is off-loaded at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (The Boeing Company/DTRA) In this 2007 file photo the Massive Ordnance Penetrator conventional bomb is off-loaded at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (The Boeing Company/DTRA)

The Pentagon has reportedly upgraded its "bunker buster bomb" in what officials say is a critical step in convincing Israel the U.S. has the ability to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons if diplomacy fails.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, has been fortified with advanced features that are meant to enable it to destroy Iran's most fortified nuclear site. 

The paper reports U.S. officials have demonstrated an earlier version of the bomb's capabilities to Israeli leaders several times recently by showing them a video of the bomb hitting its target in high-altitude testing.

Pentagon officials view the development of the weapon as critical to convincing Israel it can rely on the U.S. to stop Iran from developing nukes, and that the Israeli military cannot do so on its own.

"Hopefully we never have to use it," said a senior U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal. "But if we had to, it would work."

According to the Wall Street Journal, the new version of the MOP has advanced components that would allow it to evade Iranian defense systems to reach the Fordow nuclear complex, which is by numerous accounts buried under a mountain in Iran. This upgraded version has not yet been dropped from a plane.

In March, Pentagon officials are spoke publicly about the MOP bombs, which are from Boeing and designed to fit exclusively with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, for the first time. 

"It gives us a far greater capability to reach and destroy an enemy's weapons of mass destruction that are located in well protected underground facilities... to a magnitude far greater than we have now," Pentagon Spokesman Capt. John Kirby said.

Kirby denied the bombs are designed to target Iran, even though it is the only country known to have buried its nuclear weapons program.

"The system is not aimed at any one country, it's to develop a capability we believe we need," Kirby said. That remark was met by audible groans and various comments of disbelief from the Pentagon press corps.

According to Boeing’s website the MOP includes a GPS navigation system and more than 5,300 pounds of explosives. It measures 20 feet long and is “designed specifically to attack hardened concrete bunkers and tunnel facilities.”

Boeing successfully tested the bomb on March 17, 2007 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Pentagon Spokesman George Little says the MOP is far more powerful than its predecessor, the BLU-109. Some estimate it’s as much as 10 times more powerful.

The Pentagon says it has contracted for a total of 20 bombs from Boeing, some of which were delivered in the fall. But, for purposes of operational security it won’t disclose how many.

On August 2, 2011 the Air Force signed a contract for eight more, meaning it's unlikely it has more than 12 bombs.

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal. 

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