How to Take Out Saddam’s Bunker

During the 1991 Gulf War, I saw a report describing Saddam Hussein’s personal bunker. The report was replete with diagrams and listed the German firm that designed and built the structure. An exhaustive search of the Internet and World Wide Web has produced no confirmation of this information.

Nevertheless, the information is clear in my memory, especially since I grew up in Germany and was particularly interested that a German firm designed and built the bunker.

The design is similar to how a modern submarine is constructed. The bunker consists of an outer and inner structure, where the inner structure is completely isolated from the outer one. In the case of submarines, of course, the isolation is for sound, to eliminate the transmission of sound from inside the sub to the surrounding water. Saddam’s bunker is designed to prevent external shock – like from a nuclear blast – from reaching the inner sanctum.

The outer structure of the bunker is a vertically oriented egg-shaped shell of 20 to 30 yards of reinforced concrete – this is yards, not feet. This shell is buried deep underground. The inner structure is suspended inside the concrete shell by massive springs, not unlike giant trampoline springs.

Physical communication with the outside is through several tunnels suspended between the structures. These tunnels are designed to sever in response to severe external shock, rather than transmit the shock to the inner structure.

Calculations I have seen indicate that this bunker design can withstand a direct thermonuclear hit. I’m not entirely certain what this means, but in any plausible scenario we are unlikely to use our largest nukes, so that the bunker really need only to withstand several hundred kilotons. Megatonnage over Baghdad is really unlikely.

The internal structure is about five stories high, and it is provisioned to support approximately 100 people for a very long time. It contains a water holding tank and water recycling equipment so that there is no need to replenish water from the outside. The water system is said to be self-sustaining for more than ten years with no addition of water. My own calculations indicate that this probably can only be accomplished with severe water rationing, since evaporation and subsequent loss to the outside cannot be prevented. Food provisioning is freeze-dried of American manufacture. There is sufficient for at least a year for the full compliment of 100.

The structure is stocked with a large library of CDs, DVDs, and other compact entertainment materials. Hardwire electronic links are redundant many times over. It is possible that the personnel inside the bunker can remain in contact with their outside supporters indefinitely.

Furthermore, although I have no specific evidence, modern wireless technology probably can support their operations as well, although a concerted external effort to jam available frequencies can thwart their efforts. If they have incorporated full spectrum CDMA technology, however, it is entirely possible for communication and even data transfer to happen even in the presence of intense jamming efforts.

Interestingly, air is not manufactured inside the bunker, at least not as of about ten years ago. Instead, it is brought inside through a cleverly designed set of openings and filters that – at least in principle – are designed to prevent the influx of radioactive substances, poison gases, nerve agents and the like.

I suspect that the designers could not incorporate any practical method of generating air inside the bunker. A nuclear submarine distills seawater to fresh water, electrolyzes the fresh water to produce hydrogen and oxygen, discards the hydrogen back to the sea, and uses the oxygen. Carbon dioxide is chemically removed (scrubbed) from the air along with noxious fumes and other unwanted gases. So long as the reactor is functioning, a submarine can continue to make its air.

The bunker designers, however, could come up with no substitute for the water as an oxygen source, or the reactor as a power source. The original plans called for a small nuclear reactor to power the bunker, but I can find no evidence that Saddam has been able to develop and build such a reactor. In lieu of this, power must also be brought in from the outside. The bunker contains an emergency power system, but it is sufficient for only a few days because of fuel limitations. Thus, air is brought in from the outside, and the bunker has a limited reserve of stored compressed air for emergencies.

So what we have is a structure that we really cannot take out from the air, capable of sustaining Saddam and his cronies for several weeks. During this time he probably will continue to communicate with his outside supporters, generating sympathy against the American bullies and their nuclear strong-arm tactics.

Fortunately, the system has a significant flaw: Its air supply. I have no doubt that we know the exact location of this bunker. I suspect we have mapped its power and air sources, and have a plan in place to cut off communications as effectively as possible. If we really know its power sources, we can put the occupants on short notice by forcing them to rely on their internal emergency power. If the occupants cut back on everything, they might actually be able to last a month with no external power, but things down there will get pretty unpleasant in the meantime.

Our real goal should be to destroy the occupants – that’s politically correct language for “kill them dead.”

Although the German designers used their considerable skills to make the air supply system impervious to outside intrusion, this is a perfect place for our special forces guys to make use of their SADM Nukes (Special Atomic Demolition Munitions), the so-called back-pack nukes we developed during the Cold War.

No matter how well the German engineers did their jobs, nothing they built will withstand these SADM devices. The very best scenario from the occupant’s point of view is where all the air vents permanently close their heavy-duty doors against the SADM explosions near the surface end of the ducts. This means that the occupants still will be alive, but without fresh air. That gives them a few days at most – and this is the “best-case” scenario.

A more likely scenario is that one or more of the SADMs will penetrate the heavy-duty doors down near the inner structure. Now we can really start to have fun. Pick your weapon: dirty up a SADM and let the radiation do its job, pump some of their own VX or Sarin down the pipe, or – here’s a cute approach – flood the entire structure with water.

The whole point is that for any of this to happen, we need Special Forces on the ground near the bunker long enough to make it happen. We can drop them and their equipment from the air, but they will need heavy-duty fire support and back-up so they can do their jobs effectively.

I can see dropping several Ranger battalions on the periphery to hold off any would-be defenders of The Man, and inserting a couple of dozen Navy SEALs to do the actual SADM work. This assumes, of course that we know exactly where everything is, or at least enough of everything to make the plan effective.

The more I think about it, the more I like the water plan: blow the heavy-duty doors and fill the bunker with water. All we need is a nearby water source, and some pumps and hoses. And the water will make the SEALs feel at home.

Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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