March 31, 2006

A Conventional Nuke

Sometimes the outright stupidity and shallowness of thinking in the general news media staggers me. But before I blast them, I need to start with myself, for getting so close initially, and then not putting 2+2 together.

Last night I mocked the U.S. military's plan to test a 700-ton bomb in the Nevada desert. I noted that no plane every built could come close to delivering a conventional bomb even a third that size. I wrote it off as a blustering response to Iran's refusal to stop uranium enrichment, but not the test of a serious munition.

I suggested, "If the Pentagon wants to send a real message to the Iranians, they could test a B61-11. I think the folks in Las Vegas and Tehran would be much more impressed with the show."

It wasn't until over 12 hours later that I figured out that something very similar to that might be the point of the test.

The 700-ton bomb will use close to 600-tons of a special mixture of ammonium nitrate-based explosives.

According to Global, the B61 Mod 11 thermonuclear bomb has a W-61 EPW (earth penetrating warhead) that ranges in yield from 360-kiloton strategic bomb down, if Nuclear Weapon is correct, to a tactical penetrator with a yield as low as .3 kilotons. If I'm doing my math correctly, a 0.3 Kt weapon is the theoretical equivalent of 300 tons yield in a convention explosive under certain conditions.

Could the 700-ton bomb test be a surrogate for the shockwave effect of a low-yield .3 Kt B61-11 nuclear warhead?

Neither the Washington Post nor Reuters, nor any other news agency seems to have caught on to this possibility. Then again, they haven't figured out yet that this massive bomb being tested could never get airborne, so this shouldn't be a surprise.

We appear to be running a "nukeless" nuclear test of the kind of ground-penetrating and literally ground-breaking bomb we may be forced to use again Iran. The "empty threat" I mocked yesterday isn't very funny anymore.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at March 31, 2006 03:25 PM | TrackBack

I think you might be on to something here. The stated reason for the test makes some sense, but not a lot. Maybe they just want a high-end number for their data, and intend to go down from there. Yours makes somewhat more sense, and seems appropriate for the kind of Army I'd like to think we have.

Although another possibility does occur to me. I know little about military explosives, and the article seems to contain some misstatements, but one thing jumped out at me: why are they using ANFO (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil)? It has a yield below that of TNT, and the wikipedia entry on it implies it might be difficult to prepare ANFO in such quantities for a single bomb. The military has thousands of tons of higher-yield explosives around.

Thus the second possibility: that the press release about "700 tonnes of ANFO" is a complete fabrication, and what's being detonated is a real tactical nuke with a yield in the 600-ton range. That would explain the notification of the Russians.

(Incidentally, since it's an AFP article and the word is spelled "tonne," they probably mean metric tons: 1000kg = about 2200 lbs.)

Posted by: wolfwalker at March 31, 2006 06:44 PM

Think of it in these terms. Iran desperately wants nukes. They know we have had a lot of them for a long time. This detonation will say to them - you can go after nukes but look what we can do to you without going that far.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at March 31, 2006 07:15 PM

God;it took you this long!

It might be a scientific test of operational parameters and one is not the weight of thew bomb the aircraft has to deliver!!!!!

Get some help!!

Posted by: RFYoung at March 31, 2006 08:17 PM

egg on my face dude. Although the .7 kiloton yield of the test might also indicate an as of yet unknown, low yield penetrator mini nuke. If you want to test a .3 kiloton explosion for modelling purposes, you dont blow a .7 kiloton device.

Posted by: Rey at April 1, 2006 12:35 AM


It isn't a .7 Kt (700 ton) yield, but 593 ton ammonium nitrate explosive, which burns slower that the TNT KT standard.

I don't claim to be a physicist, but a larger, slow burning explosive might be close to the shock effect of a much smaller, faste burning explosive, like a .3 Kt nuke.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 1, 2006 01:07 AM

This is my home turf and I will say only this:

New DOE supercomputer upgrade by IBM, classified 3-D software program simulating multivector forces of a nuclear explosion, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

This test is very important...

End of discussion.

Posted by: WB at April 1, 2006 03:46 AM

Just to add to your perceptive post and the comments above mine - this test simulates the destruction of bunkers of certain depth and hardness. This may mean that the US is getting serious about an Iranian campaign.


Posted by: chsw10605 at April 2, 2006 07:27 PM

"A saber being rattled makes much noise. A saber being drawn is quiet."

A nice bit of rattling with this test. Kinda 'one-ups' the Iranian stuff, especially that goofy ground effect "invisible boatmobile".

Wait for the quiet bit... Coming soon.

Posted by: heldmyw at April 4, 2006 02:09 PM