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The US Air Force Just Dropped the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan

030311-D-9085M-007 A Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon is prepared for testing at the Eglin Air Force Armament Center on March 11, 2003. The MOAB is a precision-guided munition weighing 21,500 pounds and will be dropped from a C-130 Hercules aircraft for the test. It will be the largest non-nuclear conventional weapon in existence. The MOAB is an Air Force Research Laboratory technology project that began in fiscal year 2002 and is to be completed this year. DoD photo. (Released)

According to US Central Command, the Air Force just dropped its most powerful conventional weapon in its arsenal for the very first time in Afghanistan today, as part of an ongoing mission to destroy dug-in ISIS-Khorasan elements operating in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Officially designated the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), it’s more popularly known to military personnel as the Mother of All Bombs for its sheer power and incredible yield for a conventional non-nuclear weapon – just over 11 tons of TNT. This isn’t just the first time the MOAB has been used in Afghanistan, however… it’s the only time it has ever been used operationally in history.

First developed in 2003, the MOAB was designed as a replacement for the Vietnam-era BLU-82 Daisy Cutter which was originally used to clear large swaths of dense jungle to create landing zones for American helicopters. After Vietnam, the Daisy Cutter was used as both an offensive and a psychological weapon, from the Persian Gulf War to Afghanistan, clearing minefields and severely demoralizing enemy combatants with its power. After exhausting every last BLU-82 left in American inventories during the opening phases of the Afghanistan war in 2002, US military brass theorized that another similar – yet more powerful – weapon would be just as useful in the Iraq war in 2003, even if only just as a psychological tool to utilize against Iraqi soldiers during the lightning fast “shock and awe” campaign.

Fully operationally ready within just nine weeks, the GBU-43/B was built to be carried by a C-130 Hercules tactical airlifter in a specialized cradle inside the aircraft’s cargo hold. To deploy the MOAB, a drogue parachute would be streamed out the back of the Hercules, yanking the gargantuan 22, 000 lb 30-foot long bomb into the sky at a relatively high altitude, allowing for greater standoff distances and keeping the unarmed and marginally-defended C-130 away from the reach of enemy anti-aircraft emplacements on the ground. After deployment, it releases the chute and cradle, entering a virtually unstoppable lethally-accurate GPS-guided free fall to its target. Using 18,700 lbs of H6 high-explosive, the MOAB detonates above its target, wiping out anything and everything within a 150 yard (1.25 football fields) diameter. Conversely, the Daisy Cutter only maxed out at an effective blast area of 100 yards. Only 15 MOABs were ever produced by the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma, along with two prototypes which were expended in testing missions, back in 2003.

After the MOAB was built in limited numbers, it was never actually used in a combat situation, until today. Fears of civilians being caught inside the bomb’s immense blast radius precluded Pentagon officials from okaying its use in anger. However, in this particular situation, CENTCOM officials confirmed that they took every step possible to ensure there were no civilians within the area engaged by the MOAB.  Pointing out that ISIS-K has been using bunkers and tunnels as refuge against coalition efforts, Gen. John Nicholson says unequivocally that “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K”. While the MOAB is most effective against surface targets, it can also be used with a high degree of lethality against entrenched and underground targets, thanks to the shockwaves the bomb’s blast emits. In this case, the MOAB was used against the ISIS-K tunnel network, most likely to collapse the caves and tunnels within using the pressure of the blast. Earlier, during the initial stages of the war in Afghanistan in 2002, the US Air Force employed Daisy Cutters in a similar manner to attack underground tunnels and caves to systematically root out and destroy Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters operating in mountainous regions.

MOABtest

A MOAB test bomb, seconds away from detonation. (USAF/released)

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About Ian D'Costa (259 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been featured and referenced in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at idcosta@tacairnet.com.

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