Oct. 24, 2007 — -- Tucked inside the White House's $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is an item that has some people wondering whether the administration is preparing for military action against Iran.
The item: $88 million to modify B-2 stealth bombers so they can carry a newly developed 30,000-pound bomb called the massive ordnance penetrator, or, in military-speak, the MOP.
The MOP is the the military's largest conventional bomb, a super "bunker-buster" capable of destroying hardened targets deep underground. The one-line explanation for the request said it is in response to "an urgent operational need from theater commanders."
What urgent need? The Pentagon referred questions on this to Central Command.
ABC News called CENTCOM to ask what the "urgent operational need" is. CENTCOM spokesman Maj. Todd White said he would look into it, but, so far, no answer.
There doesn't appear to be any potential targets for a bomb like that in Iraq. It could potentially be used on Taliban or al Qaeda hideouts in the caves along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there would be no need to use a stealth bomber there.
So where would the military use a stealth bomber armed with a 30,000-pound bomb like this? Defense analysts say the most likely target for this bomb would be Iran's flagship nuclear facility in Natanz, which is both heavily fortified and deeply buried.
"You'd use it on Natanz," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org. "And you'd use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly."
"It's kind of strange," Pike said. "It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn't think you would want to announce it like that."
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.
The bomb was developed by Northrop Grumman and Boeing for the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
In an interview earlier this year with Air Force Times, Bob Hastie, the manager of the MOP program explained its purpose: "We have a mission to defeat ... hard and deeply buried targets where our adversary would have the support structure for WMD-type systems."