AFP, WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has asked for restoration of a supersecret research program designed to create a new class of nuclear weapons capable of destroying hardened underground targets, a Pentagon official said late Monday.
The request came in a letter Rumsfeld sent to then-Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham on January 10, in which he insisted that funds for studying the feasibility of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator be restored.
“The Defense Department does support completion of the penetrator study,” Major Paul Swiergosz, a department spokesman, told AFP. “We can't necessarily match Cold War weapons to the new threats. We have to adapt capabilities that we have to meet the threats.”
A spokesman for the Department of Energy that runs US nuclear weapons research declined to say what the response would be.
But military experts said they were expecting a new attempt by the administration of President George W. Bush to restore the “bunker buster” nuclear weapons program that was defunded by Congress late last year under growing international and domestic criticism.
Republican Representative David Hobson, who chairs an appropriations subcommittee in the House of Representatives, quietly removed 27.5 million dollars earmarked for the bomb study from a mammoth spending bill that was being rushed through Congress.
The White House apparently made an election-year decision not to hold up the whole budget because of one item, and let it pass.
But now, according to Swiergosz, the Pentagon wants the money back because the bomb could be useful against underground enemy weapons depots and command posts.
“I think we should request funds in FY06 and FY07 to complete the study,” Rumsfeld wrote to Abraham, according to published excerpts of the letter, whose accuracy was confirmed by the spokesman. “Our staffs have spoken about funding the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) study to support its completion by April 2007.”
Rumsfeld assured Abraham and his successor, Samuel Bodman, that they could count on his support for “your efforts to revitalize the nuclear weapons infrastructure and to complete the RNEP study.”