Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pentagon Scientists Target Iran’s Nuclear Mole Men

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Danger Room / David Hambling

Iran’s nuclear facilities may be deeply-buried in a “maze of tunnels” — making them hard to find and even harder to destroy. But the Pentagon is working on some new technological tricks for exactly this kind of mission. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, apparently takes a personal and close interest in tunnels — he’s a founder member of the Iranian Tunneling Association. Many of those facilities were built as underground shelters in the aftermath of the 1987 “War of the Cities,” when Iraq and Iran exchanged bombardments of Scud missiles. There are hundreds of miles of such tunnels, created by giant boring machines. The underground locations provide defense and concealment — there is no telling what is a nuclear facility and what is an empty storage space. And, even if the entrance is visible, the extent and layout are unknown, making targeting difficult. Even if the site is attacked, the thickness of mountain rock makes them invulnerable to ordinary bombing. That’s why the U.S. Air Force is rushing the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (pictured) into production. The MOP can punch through 60 feet of concrete, but this is the very bluntest of instruments for the job.

There is more subtle technology to seek out and destroy such facilities. Pentagon mad science division Darpa has an array of research projects devoted to Underground Facility Detection & Characterization. According to the program’s website, the agency’s Strategic Technologies Office is: Investing in sensor technologies that find, characterize and identify facility function, pace of activity, and activities in conjunction with their pre- and post-attack status. STO is also investigating non-nuclear earth-penetrating systems for the defeat of hard and deeply buried targets. Seeing through solid rock might sound like a tall order, but Darpa thrives on challenge. One project is called Airborne Tomography using Active Electromagnetics, which builds on technology originally developed by the geophysical exploration industry. The ground is illuminated with electromagnetic energy — typically extremely low frequency — and the distortions on the return show the presence of underground facilities and tunnels. Some years ago, military-backed scientists at Alaska’s High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) were able to map out tunnels at depths of a hundred feet or greater. Papadopoulos, for example, says he wants to do another round of subterranean surveillance experiments. “Personally, I believe it can reach 1,000 kilometers. It [currently] can’t reach Iran, if that’s your question,” one of those researchers, Dennis Papadopoulos told Danger Room. “But if I put HAARP on a ship, or on an oil platform, who knows?” (Read more...)