Sunday, March 11, 2012

The curious case of the busted bunker busters (continued)

The case of the busted bunker busters may turn out to be a case of that fascinating but elusive animal, the Political Observer's Paradox, in which the way you choose to observe a particular political phenomenon—whether you focus on its position at a particular point in time, or its velocity as it works its way through a particular set of spatial coordinates—can affect the way it comes out. But it's a pretty complicated matter, and we'll have to go into some background first.

The GBU-28 (Guided Bomb Unit 28), improperly known as "Deep Throat", and originally created by Texas Instruments and Lockheed but now manufactured by Raytheon, is a bunker buster: a hard-target laser-guided bomb developed during the First Gulf War in 1991 to penetrate the underground concrete bunkers in which the Iraqi command was thought to be hiding from Operation Desert Storm, 19 feet long and stuffed with something that makes it incredibly heavy, 5000 pounds.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
It works, according to HowStuffWorks, like a gigantic nail shot from the gigantic nail gun of a B-52 or F-111, plummeting nose first toward its target and piercing through 100 feet of soil or 20 [jump]
feet of concrete. Also, it is equipped with a "smart fuse" that can be timed to explode any time after it lands, so that you might be able to get a good look at it before it suddenly blows you up.

What makes it so extraordinarily heavy might be the packing of the tube with depleted uranium, which would add serious radiation contamination to the list of things it does, but Jane's Defence told Dai Williams that this was not the case; DU is "too soft", so it must be some other metal. But nobody has any suggestions as to what metal it might be. A ton and a half of tungsten would work, but it would be sort of expensive, considering that nobody ever gets to use the thing more than once.

Anyway it was tried out successfully in Iraq (blew out one bunker with very satisfactory totality, and did nothing with the other, where it was mistargeted), and used again later in Afghanistan and Iraq Redux, and before you knew it, the Israeli Defense Forces felt that they ought to have some too. On 9 July 2004 Haaretz reported that Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon was inclined to give them some after that year's presidential elections, and indeed, after the elections so it was:
The Pentagon notified Congress on Tuesday of a proposed sale to Israel of 100 guided bunker-busting bombs, a weapon which would significantly upgrade the Israel Air Force's offensive operational capability and one which analysts said could prompt concerns about a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran.... Israel had requested the sale of the Lockheed Martin Corp. GBU-28s, worth as much as $30 million....
Israel has denied speculation that it might make a military strike on Iran to prevent it from producing an atomic bomb. (Haaretz, 28 April 2005)
(Most likely the deal was for a package of these GBU-28s plus 500 of the one-ton GBU-27s.)

There's no evidence of what happened for over a year, until just as Israel was busy invading southern Lebanon in the hope of rooting out the encampments there of the terrorist Army of God or Hizbullah, when it came out that the US was rushing a shipment of bombs to its ally, speculation saying that GBU-28s must be part of the mix:
American officials said that once a weapons purchase is approved, it is up to the buyer nation to set up a timetable. But one American official said normal procedures usually do not include rushing deliveries within days of a request. That was done because Israel is a close ally in the midst of hostilities, the official said.
Although Israel had some precision guided bombs in its stockpile when the campaign in Lebanon began, the Israelis may not have taken delivery of all the weapons they were entitled to under the 2005 sale. (New York Times, 22 July 2006)
The rush led to a bit of an international incident when the plane carrying the bombs stopped to refuel at Prestwick Airport in Scotland:
Last night the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, took the highly unusual step of publicly criticising the US and accusing it of not following the right procedures over the use of Prestwick airport for arms flights....
Mrs Beckett said she was "not happy" that Prestwick had been used for refuelling and crew rest for two chartered Airbus A310 cargo planes filled with GBU28 laser-guided bombs, adding she had "already let the United States know that this is an issue that appears to be seriously at fault".
Procedures for handling hazardous cargoes did not appear to have been followed, she said. (Guardian, 27 July 2006)
 And a reader commented angrily,
Recently when the first two weeks of aerial bombardment of the Hezbollah did not succeed US rushed in the gruesome GBU 28 a laser guided 5000 pounder through Preswick (UK) for a so called surgical strike on Qana causing the carnage. It was plain murder or massacre of women and children. (Guardian, 2 August 2006)
But then (in November 2006) the somewhat less excitable Robert Gates took over the Defense Department, and the Bush administration began to evince a dislike for sending the Deep Throat to Israel. They turned down a request in the fall of 2008, apparently seeing it as preparations for an attack on Iran—with a little consolation present, a thousand 250-pound GBU-39s:
The deal was approved amid public and secret messages from Washington, with the Americans expressing their reservations about a possible Israeli strike against the Islamic Republic's suspected nuclear sites.... (Haaretz, 14 September 2008)
In the era of George W.,  we of the so-called left got into some bad observing habits—or not so much observing as using public life as a mirror in which we could see the justification of our prejudices and deep fears (because we were certainly watching very intently). It was like a continual civic emergency, in which the situation develops so fast that you never quite stop to ask yourself what it is—you already know! or close enough—but just keep on watching it develop.

And then of course, at least from the left side, it always felt like the right thing to do, because it was always as bad as it looked, more or less just as we were expecting, from Aghanistan to Iraq and from Hurricane Katrina to Typhoon Derivative. So if it didn't have a quick interpretation, like these little facts about Israel and the bunker busters, we just didn't pay that much attention.

This is not suitable for the age of Obama, though. Not only is our new president particularly smart and at the same time capable of actions that seem really dumb, not only does he insist on policies that seem certain to go wrong but somehow don't, he challenges us to think beyond the distinction of left and right itself, something I for one am still really uncomfortable with.

But if we watch, if we observe in the right style, we can literally influence the outcome. In the next (and final?) installment we'll look at how the curious case of the bunker busters provides an example.

No comments:

Post a Comment