The Pentagon may finish a study on a strategy to defeat Hard and Deeply Buried Targets (HDBTs) this spring, the head of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) said this week at a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing.

“Right now, the B83 is still part of my arsenal with the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] language that limits the reduction of that [B83] so I still have that capacity and capability, pending the results of the Hard and Deeply Buried [Targets] study that the department is doing of which we are a part and are giving our inputs to that,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton, the USSTRATCOM commander said on March 9 in response to a question from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) on replacement plans for the B83 megaton-capable gravity bomb to defeat HDBTs in China and North Korea.

“That being said, we are going to have to figure out how we are going to continue to have capability that gets after HDBTs and what effects can do that,” he said. “Whether conventional or nuclear, we’re going to have to have a strategy to figure out how to do that, and I look forward to seeing what the study brings us from the department to make sure that we can close that [gap]…I was told that we should see that [study] in the spring.”

The fiscal 2023 NDAA prohibits the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from retiring most B83 bombs until the agency reports to Congress on why the U.S. can still hold HDBTs at risk without the B83 (Defense Daily, Dec. 7, 2022). The prohibition originated last year with SASC, but the compromise bill softened it and allows the NNSA to retire up to 25 percent of the B83 stockpile that existed as of Sept. 30, 2022.

The Biden administration has wanted to dismantle all B83 bombs. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory maintains the B83.

Possible conventional munitions against HDBTs include the Boeing [BA] AGM-157 Massive Ordnance Penetrator –a 20 foot, 30,000-pound bomb carried by U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bombers by Northrop Grumman [NOC]. The B-2 is also the designated carrier of the B83.