On April 13, 2017, the United States Air Force dropped the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb, which they named “Mother of All Bombs” on a cave complex in Achin district, Afghanistan, to take down militants in the area.
Officially known as GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, the Mother of All Bombs or MOAB picked the nickname due to its gigantic size and large-yield.
But exactly how powerful is the MOAB bomb and what effects it can have if used? Over the last century or so, humanity has witnessed some of the most devastating explosions and bombs, such as the British Tallboys and its slightly larger version Grand Slam, which weighs well over 10,000 kg. However, the MOAB is a different beast.
Below, we’ll find out the origin of the MOAB bomb, its capabilities, and its strength.
The Concept and Origin Of MOAB
Al Weimorts, along with Joseph Fellenz (left), lead model maker, inspecting prototype of the bomb before being tested.
The United States army never deters itself from leading unorthodox experiments, and one such experiment was the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast or MOAB. The bomb was designed by Albert L. Weimorts Jr. under a U.S Air Force research project back in 2002.
The basic working principle of GBU-43/B is based on its predecessor BLU-82 system, which was used extensively during the Vietnam War and, most recently, in Afghanistan.
The MOAB is not intended for penetrating the target, instead, it is designed to detonate mid-air, suitable for soft to medium surface targets covering extended areas such as a cave system and a canyon. It goes off just before reaching the surface at the height of about 2-3 meters and has a 1.5 km blast radius.
Due to its massive size, the MOAB can only be delivered or carried by heavy bombers. After its initial drop, the missile was guided to its target by human-controlled GPS systems for pinpoint accuracy.
Specifications and Capabilities
MOAB bomb on display at the Air Force Museum in Florida | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Since its introduction in 2003, only 15 MOAB’s have been manufactured to date. Each has an approximate weight of 9,800 kg, a length of 9.1 meters and a radius of 51.2 cm.
According to official sources, a single unit of GBU-43/B cost about $170,000, while the entire project (research) cost $300 million. Keep in mind that this cost is based on the early 2000s dollar rates.
It has a blast yield of 46 Gigajoules, 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.
On a comparison scale, its yield is quite similar to that of the Cold War era’s M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon. The projectile used in the M-29 portable recoilless gun is one of the smallest nuclear warheads produced the United States.
With a blast yield of 10-20 tons of TNT, this small nuclear weapon is in the same category as GBU-43. However, when compared to the 1.44 megaton W49 thermonuclear warhead, which was widely used in ballistic missiles in the 1960s, it has only 1/144,000th or 0.0007% of the total yield.
The project was more of a “crash-course” initiated by the United States Air Force for use against targets operating in unfamiliar terrain with unknown tactics. The military was in such a 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.
It’s Never Been Used Before (In Combat)
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) April 13, 2017
In 2001, the old BLU-82 was once again used against the Taliban, where it inflicted moderate damages. It’s generally believed that at this point, the United States Air Force felt the need for a 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.
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 has access to such massive bombs, then you are wrong. In late 2007, Russia announced the successful field-test of their newest thermobaric weapon, which they nicknamed “Father of all Bombs.” According to Russian claims, the bomb has four times the blast yield of American GBU-43/B.
A Grand Slam Bomb
While the Russian claims are refuted mainly by the American military specialists, there was a bomb that technically superseded the MOAB in terms of weight. Known as the “Bomb, Medium Capacity, 22,000 lb” or the Grand Slam, it is a class of earthquake bombs, which devastating effects on its targets during the Second World War.
Officially, it weighs around 22,000 lbs (close to 10,000 kg), slightly heavier than the GBU-43/B. However, most of its weight is a result of heavy iron casting to penetrate hard targets before exploding in order to be effective.
If the claims are indeed valid, then the 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.