'Bunker Busters': Sources of Confusion in the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator Debate [September 22, 2004]   [open pdf - 68KB]

"The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), often called a "bunker buster," is at present the subject of a cost and feasibility study to determine if either of two nuclear bombs, the B61 and the B83, could be modified, mainly by adding a heavy, pointed case, so as to be able to penetrate perhaps 10 meters into earth or rock. This penetration would increase the weapon's ability, by a factor of 20 to 50, to destroy hardened and deeply buried facilities. The Department of Defense has expressed concern that potential U.S. adversaries are using such facilities because the 1991 and 2003 wars in Iraq demonstrated that U.S. precision conventional weapons can readily destroy facilities that are above the surface or buried at shallow depth. If the study shows RNEP to be feasible and affordable, and if the President and Congress approve, RNEP could move from a study to development and, perhaps, deployment. The RNEP debate has received much attention and spawned much confusion. This report examines sources of confusion in this debate. Part of the difficulty in analyzing this debate is that the RNEP study raises large and complex issues. Should the United States improve its ability to destroy buried targets, or are there offsetting reasons not to? What would be the targets for RNEP, and by what measures should its military effectiveness be judged? How reliable are estimates of collateral damage resulting from RNEP?"

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL32599
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