For the first time is history, the United States military used the world’s largest and most badass non-nuclear bomb which they called the “Mother of all bombs” on a cave complex to take down ISIL militants located in eastern Afghanistan. Although MOAB is officially known as GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, it picked up its intimidating nickname mostly due to its gigantic size and its abbreviation.
But really, how powerful is this giant bomb and what effect it can have if used? Sure, over the years the humanity has witnessed several huge and devastating bombs such as 1940s British Tallboys and Grand Slam, which officially weight over 10,000 kg but this is different. So do you want to know more about this Bomb, that’s what we are going to uncover today.
The Concept and Origin
Al Weimorts along with Joseph Fellenz (left), lead model maker, inspecting prototype of the bomb before being tested.
The United States army never deters themselves from engaging in unorthodox experiments and one such experiment was the GBU-43/B Massive Ordinance Air Blast or MOAB. The bomb was crafted by Albert L. Weimorts Jr under a US Air Force research project back in 2002. The working mechanism of the GBU-43/B share resemblance to its predecessor BLU-82 system, which was heavily used during the Vietnam War and most recently in Afghanistan.
In 2001, the BLU-82 was once again used against the Taliban, where it inflicted some severe damages. It’s generally believed that at this point the United States Air Force felt the need for much bigger and powerful weapon, with an even greater area of impact.
During 2003, the Pentagon nearly used GBU-43/B against Saddam Hussein during the invasion of Iraq, but the plan was instantly abandoned due to possible civilian casualties that it might inflict.
Due to its massive size, only bigger carrier planes are able to carry it, so an equally gigantic Lockheed C-130 Hercules was chosen. These missiles are carefully placed inside C-130 cargo, placing it on a huge cradle. After its initial drop, the missile was guided to its target by human-controlled GPS systems for pinpoint accuracy.
It is not a penetrator weapon, or simply put, it doesn’t detonate upon impact instead, it goes off just before reaching the surface at a height of 6 to 10 feet. With more than 1.5 km blast radius, this massive weapon is suitable for restrained areas like caves or tunnels and canyons.
Specs and Strength
Since its initial launch in 2003, only 15 MOAB’s have been manufactured to date. Each bomb has an approximate weight of 9,800 kg, a length of 9.1 meters and a radius of 51.2 cm. According to the Air Force, a single unit of GBU-43/B takes $170,000 to make with nearly $300 millions in the research process. Keep in mind that this cost is based on early 2000s dollar rates.
It was more of a “crash-course” project, which was initiated by the United States Air Force for use against a foe that is operating in an unfamiliar terrain with unknown tactics. The military was in such hurry to complete the program that they decided to give the bomb green appearance, which was the only color that was available in abundance at that short period of time.
Importantly, it has a blast yield of 46 Gigajoules, which is equivalent to 11 tons of TNT. The amount of energy released by a MOAB during the explosion is roughly equivalent to that of a 6.0 Richter earthquake. Wondering what it’s made of? The bomb is mainly composed of a mixture of several deadly and highly explosive chemicals known as the composition H6 with a medium weight aluminum casing wrapped around it.
As mentioned earlier, it has a blast yield of 46 billion Joules (1 Gigajoules = 1 billion Joules) but how it fares against other bombs? On a comparison scale, its yield is quite similar to that of Cold War era’s M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon. The projectile used in the M-29 portable recolless gun was one of many variants of the worlds smallest nuclear warheads produced by USA known as W54.
Having a blast yield of 10-20 tons of TNT, this small nuclear weapon is in the same category of GBU-43. On the other hand, when compared to the 1.44 megaton W49 thermo-nuclear warhead, which was widely used in ballistic missiles in the 1960s, it has only 1/144,000th or 0.0007% of the total yield.
It’s Never Been Used Before (In Combat)
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) April 13, 2017
Before the events of 13th April this year, the GBU-43/B was only tested in a controlled environment. The first of such tests were conducted in 2003, one year after its initial manufacturing. The venue was the Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where army officials reported that the resulted blast caused dust to rise as high as 10,000 feet and also produced a massive horizontal fire blast. A giant mushroom cloud was visible from 30 km away.
If you think that only the United States have access to such massive bombs then you are wrong. In late 2007, Russia announced the successful field-test of their newest thermobaric bomb, which they nicknamed “Father of all Bombs.” Well, no other name could fit better, as it, at least according to the Russian claims, has four times the blast yield of American GBU-43/B.
A Grand Slam Bomb
While the Russian claims are largely refuted by the American military specialists, there was a bomb which technically superseded the MOAB in terms of weight. Known as the “Bomb, Medium Capacity, 22,000 lb” or the Grand Slam is a class of earthquake bombs, which devastated many targets during the end of Second World War.
Officially, it weighs around 22,000 lbs, slightly heavier than the GBU-43/B. However, most of its weight was a result of heavy iron casting to penetrate hard targets before exploding in order to be effective.
If the claims are indeed true, then Russian Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever produced, but if not then the American GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast wins the race.