US to develop new nuclear weapons

The US Congress has allocated millions of dollars for research into new types of nuclear weapons and to upgrade a Nevada nuclear test site.

    The US has the most developed nuclear programme in the world

    By a vote of 387-36, the House of Representatives passed a

    spending bill on Tuesday that contains $7.5

    million to research the so-called "Robust

    Nuclear Earth Penetrator".

    One Energy Department official said the device

     "would enhance the nation's ability to hold hard and deeply

    buried targets at risk".

    The Senate approved the measure by voice vote soon after.

    It will now go to President George Bush for signature.

    Bunker-busters 

    US scientists are looking into the possibility of converting

    into bunker-busters two existing warheads - the B61 and the B83,

    according to Bush administration officials.

    The B61, which has selectable yields ranging from 0.3 kilotonnes

    to 300 kilotonnes, is a tactical thermonuclear gravity bomb that can

    be delivered by strategic as well as tactical aircraft

    .

    The B83, whose yields range from one to two megatonnes, is

    designed for precision delivery from very low altitudes, most likely

    by B-2 stealth bombers, military experts said.

    It has a nose cone

    capable of withstanding a supersonic-speed collision with concrete

    or steel and a delayed detonation to allow the aircraft to escape

    the blast.

    Bush had requested $15m for
    nuclear research 

    High-precision strikes

    The main task now is to find a way of hardening these bombs'

    shells to allow them to survive penetration through layers of rock,

    steel and concrete before detonating close to their deep underground

    targets.

    But the $7.5 million allocated for the penetrator represents a

    50% reduction from the $15 million requested by the

    administration.

    An additional $6 million has been earmarked to study

    low-yield nuclear weapons that some experts believe could be useful

    in high-precision strikes.

    Experts say that a five-kilotonne nuclear

    explosive detonated, for example, right on a missile silo door will

    vaporise the door as well as the missile inside.

    Underground targets

    Low-yield weapons could also be effective against other types of

    underground facilities such as command posts and hardened ammunition

    dumps.

    According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, at least 10,000

    such bunkers currently exist in over 70 countries around the world.

    More than 1400 of them are used as strategic storage sites for

    weapons of mass destruction, concealed launch pads for ballistic

    missiles as well as leadership or top-echelon command and control

    posts.

    SOURCE: AFP


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