Turning Out the Lights in Iran

The 509th Bomb Wing shield. The mushroom cloud pays homage to the 509th's involvement in Japan.

It’s troubling that people talk about attacking Iran like it is inevitable – especially when the person speaking is a spokesman for a thermonuclear bomb wing.

Granted, that’s the job of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base. And, yes, Iran has a uranium enrichment plant built into the side of a mountain.

But like I said, it’s troubling that the topic has become commonplace.

Capt. John Severns, a public affairs officer with the 509th Bomb Wing, led a group of University of Central Missouri faculty and administrators on a tour of the base Friday. During a “mission briefing,” Severns detailed the assorted bombs at their disposal – such as the “massive ordinance penetrator.”

This 30,000-pound bomb can handle targets burrowed 200 feet in the ground – at such “random Mideast nations” with clandestine labs built into mountains. His not-so-vague reference to Iran elicited chuckles around the room.

Charles “Lynn” Lowder, UCM’s new director of Military and Veteran Services, welcomed everyone on the bus as we were about to leave. He reminded us of Whiteman’s strategic importance and that the B-2 bomber is first to go into places like Iran to “take out the lights” and go from there.

I’m not saying those comments are baseless. But I certainly don’t have enough information to make such statements. I do have plenty of information to say that many of our recent wars were based on bad information that became commonplace.

Backing up a little, Severns’ comments must be taken into context. Iran is on everyone’s mind, and politicians aren’t holding back on the war rhetoric. So, it was nice to hear Severns describe the bomb wing’s mission in terms of peace.

“The whole point of a nuclear weapon is to never use it,” he said.

Severns politely noted President Obama’s goal of zero nukes in the arsenal, but that goal is unreachable given that so many others have them.

Deterrence and negotiations is the name of the game, he said. And that’s the philosophy behind our $2.2 billion B-2 bombers. Severns used Dr. Strangelove to describe the philosophy…the weapon is useless as a deterrent if nobody knows about it.

“This plane is not a secret,” Severns said.

In fact, he said the base makes a point to show off our stealthy batwing to foreign visitors. Recent visits included Chinese and Russian officials, he said.

But peace is the endgame, and Severns said the use of a nuke means the bomb wing failed its mission.

I’m not so sure it’s all on the 509th’s shoulders.

Overall, the tour was quite interesting. I learned that Whiteman has several control stations for the MQ-1 Predator – the drones flying in Afghanistan. Severns said operators here keep five drones it the air at all times overseas.

The bomb wing has three choices of nuclear weapons, which, of course, Severns said he could not confirm or deny were on base. Two of these bombs were built in the 1960s and the third in the 1980s. Each one is a two-stage hydrogen bomb – the B61-11 has a pointed tip so it can burrow into the ground before detonation.

The ground likes to carry shockwaves more than the air.

But the weapons of choice are the conventional 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs. Severns showed us a before-and-after photo of a building in Iraq. The building looked the same in the after shot, save for some holes in the roof. An interior shot showed the awesome power of these 2,000-pound precision-guided bombs. The bomb hit the roof dead-center and completely hollowed out the interior.

Very spooky.

Our tour took us into the A-10 hangars and then to the B-2 gate. They gathered our IDs, again, and we waited. And waited. Then we were politely denied entry because of “an error.”

The tour is supposed to be rescheduled. If that happens, I guess this is part one of a two-part series.

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