Pentagon Looking at Bigger Bomb, Navy SEALs Mothership for Persian Gulf

Pentagon asks for funds to remake mega bomb while renovating 'mothership.'

ByABC News
January 28, 2012, 8:52 PM

Jan. 28, 2012 — -- Two high profile weapons systems are getting critical attention as the United States trades verbal barbs with Iran over Tehran's nuclear weapons program and its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.

The Navy SEALs are scheduled to receive a "special operations mothership" in the Persian Gulf that will search for mines and adversaries. Set to be retired just weeks ago, the 40-year-old USS Ponce is now on a fast-track rebuild to act as a floating U.S. base in the Persian Gulf.

"In the long term, what it's going to be is mothership for special operations forces that will allow the U.S. to covertly deploy our special operations warriors to really difficulty parts of the world where you don't want people on shore like Yemen and Somalia," military analyst Steve Ganyard told ABC News.

Ganyard said that in the short term, the United States is trying to "create a platform where we can put mine-hunting helicopters and keep them permanently based in the Strait of Hormuz so that if the Iranians do something stupid like try to put sea mines in and try to close off the Strait of Hormuz, thereby closing off 20 percent of the world's global oil supplies, we can quickly get in there and reopen the straits."

The Ponce is being enhanced with cranes to pull mines and the ability to dock 12 small boats. The renovated ship will have space for four helicopters, four video teleconference rooms, and an on board operations center.

Bunker-Buster Bombs to Be Reworked By Defense Department

Meanwhile, the defense department is being forced to rework a 30,000-pound bomb called the massive ordinance penetrator, or, in military terms, the MOP. The MOP is the military's largest conventional bomb, a super "bunker-buster" capable of destroying hardened targets deep underground.

The MOP is a massive bomb -- 20 feet long and encased in 3.5-inch thick high-performance steel. It is designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding.

But initial tests indicated that the bunker-buster may not be able to destroy some of Iran's facilities, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and so the Pentagon submitted a request to Congress this month for funding to work on the bomb's capabilities.

Ganyard told ABC News that a UN report saying some of these hulls deep inside mountains that the Iranians are using to enrich uranium are deeper than the U.S. previously thought.

"We were building a bomb to one level of depth deep inside a granite mountain and now we need to go even deeper. We have to have that conventional capability to deter them from doing anything that might precipitate a war," Ganyard said.

The Defense Department has already spent about $330 million to develop about 20 of the bunker-buster bombs, and the Pentagon is requesting about $82 million more to make the bomb more effective, according to government officials briefed on the plan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the newspaper the bomb might not penetrate far enough to destroy Iran's underground nuclear facilities.

"We're developing it," he told the Wall Street Journal. "I think we're pretty close, let's put it that way. But we're still working at it because these things are not easy to be able to make sure that they will do what we want them to. But I'm confident, frankly, that we're going to have that capability and have it soon."

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed the accuracy of Panetta's quotations to ABC News.

In an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, President Obama said he hopes economic sanctions are the weapon that changes Iran's course, but he wants these military weapons as well.

"Listen, Iran, you have a right to peaceful nuclear energy like every other country. But you cannot pursue a nuclear weapon," Obama said. "We've imposed the toughest sanctions ever. But we're not taking any options off the table."

ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this report.