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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force’s deep-earth “bunker-buster” weapon is one step closer to reality, now that engineers have tested modifications to the B-2 bomber to carry two of the 30,000-pound bombs.

On Dec. 18, Air Force ordnance handlers at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., loaded a dummy version of the 20.5-foot long Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, into a mocked-up duplicate of the stealth bomber’s weapons bay.

What the Air Force was checking in the test was whether the B-2’s existing mounting hardware is adequate, and if the bomb fit in the bay, according to Airman 1st Class Stephen Linch, a spokesman for the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman.

The combined weight of the two MOPs is 20,000 pounds more more than the published 40,000-pound maximum payload the B-2 is listed as carrying.

However, according to 1st Lt. Candace Cutrufo, Air Force engineers have calculated that the airframe of the aircraft is capable of handling them.

“The B-2 hasn’t actually done a test flight carrying the actual bombs,” Cutrufo, a spokeswoman at Whiteman, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday by phone. She didn’t know when those tests would be held.

“But once that occurs, the B-2 will have achieved a new milestone for payload capacity,” and the old payload of 40,000 will be updated to reflect that the bomber can carry 60,000 pounds, she said.

The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $88 million to fund the development of the MOP in fiscal 2008.

Because the MOP’s purpose is to destroy deeply buried and what the military calls “hardened” targets — those specifically reinforced to survive strikes with high explosives — the bomb can burrow up to 200 feet before exploding, according to Linch.

Once the MOP gets to its target, Linch said, the weapon will deliver 5,300 pounds of explosives “with more than 10 times the explosive power” of the BLU-109, its bunker-busting predecessor, Linch said.

The first successful tests of the MOP’s explosive capabilities took place at the end of March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

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