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U.S. Air Force seeks deeper penetrating "bunker-buster" weapon

By Kris Osborn
CNN Headline News

GBU-28
GBU-28 "bunker-buster" bomb being loaded onto U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet

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(CNN) -- In the next few months, U.S. Air Force officials said Friday they expect to decide on a contract to improve the earth-penetrating capability of the 5,000-pound "bunker-buster" bomb.

The bomb, the GBU-28, was widely used in Afghanistan. According to experts, it is capable of penetrating up to 22 feet of earth and concrete before detonating. Military experts say many caves and other targets in Afghanistan were much deeper than that, demonstrating the need for a deeper-penetrating weapon.

"We will be producing more of the GBU-28s, improving the penetrating aspects of the weapon," said Air Force Maj. Steve Pearce who heads the GBU-28 development program at the Air Armaments Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

In particular, Air Force officials said, they plan to develop and test new models of the weapon's warhead, the BLU-113, by changing its shape, mass and components.

"If you have a pencil, its shape makes it easier to penetrate a substance than a baseball bat or broom handle." one official said.

At the heart of the desired improvements, the officials said, are efforts to develop a different kind of explosive that would be much less likely to explode prematurely or detonate accidentally in storage.

One official said the idea is "to develop a bomb and a fuse which remain intact until the weapon reaches its desired depth. The heart of the bomb is the fuse. That is why we are also experimenting with programmable fuses."

Experts point out that it is unlikely changes to the GBU-28 would be finished in time for use in a war with Iraq, should one take place, unless the changes were simple. If that were the case, they could go into effect very quickly and might be ready early next year, in time to have some impact in the event of war.

A deeper penetrating "bunker-buster" could be of great value in an Iraqi campaign because the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is accused of hiding weapons of mass destruction underground, they said.

Air Force officials said the Defense Threat Reduction Agency also is experimenting with "fillers," materials placed in warheads that could destroy chemical and biological weapons.

For instance, they said, a rocket warhead filled with something that causes a sustained burn could incinerate and thus destroy chemical and biological weapons.

The GBU-28 was first dropped in 1991 during Desert Storm by an F-111 fighter plane, according to Air Force officials. These days, the bomb can be carried on the B-2 bomber and the F-15 Eagle.



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