Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Busting Iran's Nukes Is Not Hard

Conventional wisdom says the Mullahs' nuke program is so well dispersed & hardened that it's impossible to take out without a huge effort. In fact it can be easily destroyed.

To build their bombs, the Mullahs are enriching uranium, in two steps:

1. Convert it to the gas uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The Mullahs are reported to do this at facility at Isfahan.
...conservative intelligence estimates suggest there are sufficient stocks of UF6 for 30 kilos of enriched uranium. The warhead used at Hiroshima contained 25 kilos
2. Then spinning the UF6 in a cascade of centrifuges, reportedly at a hardened facility at Natanz
...to reach the advanced stage needed for building an atomic weapon, it is necessary to connect a number of centrifuges so that they form a "cascade".When they were finally allowed to visit Natanz two years ago, IAEA inspectors were
alarmed to discover that the Iranians had managed to construct a cascade. This comprises 164 centrifuges, which are based on Pakistan's P2 design.
To build enough nukes to wipe Israel off the map, they're said to be building a 50,000 centrifuge farm at Natanz.

So the Mullahs can be de-toothed by just destroying the Isfahan and Natanz facilities. For obvious reasons, it's best to do this with minimum fuss and collateral damage.

Istahan is fairly soft, but Natanz is hardened to protect all those delicate centrifuges:

Covering 100,000 m2, the Fuel Enrichment Plant complex...boasts two 25,000-meter halls, built 8 meters-deep into the ground and protected by a concrete wall 2.5 meters thick, itself protected by another concrete wall.

The solution is this high velocity kinetic energy weapon:

Someone is finally putting conventional warheads on an ICBM...The navy is taking the three ton warhead of the Trident...Sea Launched Ballistic Missile...and fitting it with non-nuclear weapons. This could be...a single bunker busting weapon.
In WW2, the Brits used the 5-ton Tallboy bomb to destroy hardened German facilities - it penetrated almost 5 meters of concrete, weighed 5 tons and fell at about 1,130 meters/sec. It, and it's 10-ton big brother Grand Slam, easily destroyed massive bunkers - the only delivery problem was bombing accuracy which although excellent for those days was poor by modern standards.

A Trident warhead would be much more effective than Tallboy, since although it would be 2 tons lighter, it would be much faster - reentering at 5,500 m/s and striking (after atmospheric drag) at over 3,000 m/s - over 2.5 times faster than Tallboy. Plus it's accurate to a few meters.

The kinetic energy released is proportional to the square of the velocity, and allowing for the different weights, a solid Trident warhead would be at least 5 times more destructive (and penetrative) than Tallboy. It needs no explosive charge since its energy would convert to massive shock waves to cream a facility full of centrifuges. The UF6 plant would be even easier.

I'd use multiple warheads on each facility - the US and Brit Navies have plenty of Tridents.

This is clean, surgical, can be launched from anywhere in the world, and even if the Mullahs get Russian Ballistic Missile Defenses, almost impossible to stop. Plus, if the Russians started fielding BMD in Iran, that would be the time to strike - otherwise I'd wait until all the centrifuges were up and whack the lot.

Game over for the Mullahs.