Friday, September 15, 2006

What Happened to Divine Strake Test?

With the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities set up by a misleading House report, what is the status of the postponed bombing of the underground tunnel in Nevada?

The Divine Strake test entails detonating 700 tons of explosives at the Nevada Test Site to measure the damage done to a tunnel by the blast and the 3.4-magnitude earthquake it would create. Pentagon budget documents said the test was designed to help war planners choose the smallest possible nuclear weapon to destroy underground targets, but Pentagon officials later said the reference to nuclear weapons was a mistake.

The Divine Strake explosion would be roughly 50 times larger than the blast from the largest conventional weapon and on par with small nuclear weapons. The test had been scheduled for June 2, but was postponed after members of Congress questioned the planning and a lawsuit was filed.

The tunnel is 1100 feet underground. Iran’s nuclear facilities are buried below ground and data from this test could be useful for planning any attack. The Pentagon considered moving the test to Indiana but recently ruled that out. What are their plans?

Earlier this month, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency notified Congress that the test would not proceed until several months into 2007, at the earliest, and that the agency would look at other potential sites. Several similar blasts, some several times larger than Divine Strake, were conducted between 1977 and 1991 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Also on Wednesday, the new chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dale Klein, said he supports the Divine Strake test. Klein, a former Defense Department official who worked on nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said the Divine Strake test would improve computer models designed to calculate how much force is needed to destroy an underground target. He also reiterated earlier statements that some renewed nuclear tests might help improve nuclear weapons reliability.

The issue of intent returns to nuclear weapons despite the Pentagon’s retraction and attempted word smithing. The question in my mind, are the results of this test critical to any U.S. or Israeli efforts to destroy Iranian nuclear capability? If yes, such bombing is likely a year off.

Politically, the Bush team works on the set up. The misleading House report was authored by a CIA operative assigned to U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and approved by National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. When the military and political tactics cross to actual bombing, time will tell!

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