Bunker buster bomb carries goal of deterring Iran

Even as Washington emphasizes walking softly to pry Iran away from its nuclear ambitions, the Pentagon is speeding the manufacture of its own big stick.

This month, the Defense Department awarded $51.9 million to McDonnell Douglas to more quickly adapt a 30,000-pound bunker buster to the B-2 stealth bomber.

The GBU-57 bomb and the fleet of B-2s — stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base with occasional deployments to Guam and an outpost in the Indian Ocean — are widely seen as the likeliest U.S. military option for setting back Tehran's hopes for building nuclear weapons.

"There is a certain amount of wise military planning in all this," said Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, "and a certain amount of saber-rattling."

The weapon is behind schedule. In 2007, officials at the bomber base east of Kansas City estimated the bomb would be B-2-ready in 2008.

Budgetary hiccups pushed the delivery date to mid-2011.

Now the testing of the bomb and the delicate job of outfitting it for any of the $2.2 billion planes is, as one Pentagon spokesman said, "back on track." It should now be ready, said Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell, "in the coming months."

About 20 of the bombs are being made.

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