Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Target is Obvious; Whether They're Rational Enough to Pay Heed is As Yet Unknown

Pentagon Plans Explosion at Nevada Site

The Pentagon plans to detonate 700 tons [1,400,000 lbs. !!] of conventional high explosives in Nevada in a June 2 test designed to gauge the effectiveness of weapons against deeply buried targets, officials said on March 30.
"I don’t want to sound glib here, but it’s the first time in Nevada that you’ll see a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons," James Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, told a small group of reporters.

The test, dubbed "Divine Strake," is sponsored by Tegnelia’s agency and is set to be conducted at the Energy Department’s Nevada Test Site in Nye County, about 65 miles (105 km) northwest of Las Vegas.
"All explosives, given the right thermal characteristics, will create a cloud that may resemble a mushroom cloud," the Defense Threat Reduction Agency said in a statement. "The dust cloud from Divine Strake may reach an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and is not expected to be visible off the Nevada Test Site."
Nuclear tests at the site sent mushroom clouds billowing high into the air and became tourist attractions in the 1950s, but surface tests ended in the early 1960s.

Pentagon leaders have expressed concern about potential U.S. adversaries building deeply buried bunkers containing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons stockpiles or command-and-control structures that are difficult to destroy with existing weapons.

The agency said the test will involve detonating 700 tons of the Ammonium Nitrate-Fuel Oil, or ANFO, a commonly used agent in commercial blasting operations. [Also used by Timothy McVeigh in OKC].
Officials said the test’s primary purpose is to examine ground shock effects on deeply buried tunnel structures, and the explosion will take place above an existing structure.
Tegnelia said because of the power of the explosion, officials will notify Russia and make sure authorities in Las Vegas understand the test. He noted the Pentagon is currently developing several very large weapons intended to penetrate the ground to get at deeply buried and hardened targets.
Tegnelia said the "Divine Strake" test represents the largest conventional explosion Pentagon officials could imagine triggering to address the issue.

A strake is part of a ship’s hull. [Specifically, armor plating].

As reported at, via Elephants in Academia, who notes that:

[F]or anyone with half a brain the purpose of Divine Strake is crystal clear. This is the new class of bunker-buster designed to penetrate targets such as the deeply buried Iranian nuclear production and storage facilities, notably Natanz, without causing the same kind of civilian casualties and environmental impact that a nuclear weapon would. Because Divine Strake has been developed over a period of years, it is now ready for testing at, imagine that, the very moment when the Iranian nuclear crisis has reached the boiling point--otherwise we would now be struggling at the design table while they merrily enriched away.

Coincidence? I think not.

Plus, a guy whose life must have been quite rough before he crossed the path of America:

Abdul Hakim Bukhary, from Saudi Arabia, denied joining al-Qaida but said he met bin Laden 14 or 15 years ago while fighting a jihad against Russian forces in Afghanistan. He traveled to Afghanistan to participate in jihad against the United States after Sept. 11, 2001, but was jailed by the Taliban before he could fight any Americans. The Taliban suspected him of being a spy after he said he liked Ahmed Shah Massood. After the United States invaded, he was sent to Guantanamo, where he said conditions were much improved. "Prisoners here are in paradise. American people are very good. Really. They give us three meals. Fruit juice and everything!"

The full article details more Gitmo inmates, from released prisoner interviews with the DoD, carrying an AP byline, as reported in the Las Vegas Sun.

A rather irrelevant sidenote: I really, really like Las Vegas.


Blogger joe shropshire said...

1.4 million pounds is seven full C-5 payloads, if memory serves. If they ever want to haul this thing to an actual target they're going to need some of that alien technology you keep hinting at.

April 02, 2006 9:51 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Hmmmm. The proximity of this story to April 1 is, shall we say, conveeeeenient.

As for the rest, Joe said what I was going to say.

April 03, 2006 4:24 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

"Divine Strake" isn't an actual weapon, it's just a test-of-concept, to see if we actually can implode deeply buried and reinforced structures using surface explosives.

Our B-2 fleet and smart, guided bombs could deliver 450 tons of conventional explosives to any given spot simultaneously. With "burrowing" warheads, that might do the trick.

In any case, I think that the larger point is saber-rattling, to get the Iranians' minds right.
There's no question whatsoever that America could destroy Iran's nuclear programme, it's just a question of how messy it gets.

April 03, 2006 11:42 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Other than the fact that everybody likes big booms, I am baffled by this.

You don't have to burrow down and explode in the tunnels, do you? A cruise missle or two in the entrance to the tunnel ought to send an unmistakeable message to the (Iranians) and also make employee retention problematic.

Or am I missing something?

April 03, 2006 5:31 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


You are missing something. Most weapons are relatively "soft," in that they have little penetrating capability. As a consequence, most of the explosive energy ends up wasted.

Even a 1MT nuclear weapon doesn't leave a particularly big hole in the ground.

So the challenge is in making a weapon that will be tough enough to survive high-angle impact with granite/reinforced concrete, and activate the fuze roughly a half second after impact.

Thereby yielding a whole lot more bang for the buck.

Except for sending "messages", cruise missiles aren't much use except against relatively soft targets.

April 03, 2006 6:13 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

We already have bunker buster ordinance. As Skipper mentioned, their success lies in the ability to penetrate deep into the earth before detonation. I'm not sure how the Divine Strake exercise will improve upon those non-nuclear weapons that we already have. The only way to achieve the kind of energy yield that such a massive conventional explosive device can produce, without the weight, is to increase the kinetic energy of the ordnance by increasing its speed at impact.

April 03, 2006 8:53 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Naval artillery shells have got this penetrating business down pretty well.

Not to half a second, but only a few-hundredths were necessary to crack through 16 inches of case-hardened steel.

As far as sending messages goes, it does raise the question that if you have a bunker buster, and you use it against (X), what do any other powers (Y) that also have underground munitions do?

My guess is, they do not wait around for the crazy cowboys to target them next month.

April 03, 2006 11:29 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Artillery shells have several disadvantages: insufficient mass, inadequate guidance, limited range, and shallow impact angles.

The ground penetrating weapon the AF invented (GBU-ICR*) can destroy a bunker (IIRC) 150' under ground.

Your question about what others would do following a ground penetrating munition attack is a good one, but answering it makes it clear how difficult it is to defending against such munitions. Even if the facility itself is deep enough, it still requires access.

Oroborous had an interesting thought. It is possible, with GPS, to maneuver multiple aircraft to different points so that weapons time of flight to the target is identical from each launching aircraft. The simultaneous arrival of multiple ground penetrating munitions might very well amplify the explosive power of each.

What's more, the ground, and structures, have resonant frequencies. Timing the arrivals to pump that oscillation ...

*I Can't Remember

April 04, 2006 4:46 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

So, if the Air Force already has a ground penetrator good to 150 feet, what do we need to blow up Nevada for?

Is that what you meant about April Fool?

Is this test just an expensive way to point out to the Iranians that we already have a bunker buster? Why not send them a postcard?


As far as naval artillery goes, I recognize that it doesn't reach more than 20 miles inland. But I still don't think you have to blow in all of a door that's, say, 100 feet thick. The first few feet ought to do it. Heck, pouring Superglue in the lock would do it.

April 04, 2006 9:55 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Since they know that we can penetrate to 150', it seems likely that they built a bit deeper.

Now we're looking for the 300' penetrator, or whatever.

April 05, 2006 9:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm dense I guess, but I still don't get it.

Even if the Secret Laboratory of Dr. Ahmedinijad is 300 feet underground, the top half of the entrance tunnel is still within 150 feet of the surface.

Blow that in and you're done, aren't you?

By 1944, the Marines had armored bulldozers and, where the terrain permitted, they just sealed up Japanese tunnels and left.

April 06, 2006 4:25 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

If we just seal the entrance, then we'll need to keep hitting them every month or so, unless you think that they'll just throw up their hands and go home.

Optimally, what we want to do is completely deny them the use of the entire facility for years.

Then that buys us time in which to apply other pressures.

April 06, 2006 7:15 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The Iranians would need Bret's robots.

Unless their nuke workers' martyrdom complex is stronger than I think it is.

After the first strike, I'd be disinclined to go back down there on the chance that it wouldn't happen again for another month or so.

My paper had a piece about Iranian saber-rattling today. They seem to have bought a lot of Russian stuff (worked great for Saddam, right?) and are either:

1) quite convinced that this stuff is the match of the Americans' stuff; or

2) I don't quite know what to make of their mindset if they know/suspect that their 200-mph torpedoes, homemade missiles etc. really are obsolete. Whistling in the dark? Merely staving off the wrath of their own people who might decide that the guys who maneuvered them into a real war with the United States deserved to be hanged upside down from a gas station? Hoping that bluster will fool the Americans into believing in their toys even if they don't? (This last the least crazy; something like it worked for a while for Saddam.)

Of course, I'm being coy. I think all those guys are both ignorant and crazy.

Here's a factoid, which I believe to be true, although I got it from a friend and have not seen it published anywhere.

In a mock dogfight between the new AF fighter (the F22), it was pitted against 20 F-15s. None of the F-15s detected it.

My mantra of 'one, two, many Omdurmans' may turn out to be pretty good.

April 06, 2006 9:28 PM  

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