US Drops Its Most Powerful Non Nuclear Bomb On ISIS In Afghanistan

Details remain sketchy, but CNN reports that a MC-130 Talon dropped a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb—also known as the Mother Of All Bombs—on ISIS tunnels and personnel in the Achin district of the Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. The attack supposedly occurred around midnight local time.

MOAB is the most powerful conventional bomb in America’s arsenal, and is an evolutionary follow-un to the 15,000lb BLU-82 “Daisy Cutters” used from Vietnam all the way up through the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Daisy Cutter was replaced in 2003 by the GBU-43, with the program taking only nine months to design, construct and test during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. The weapon was never used during that conflict, although the Daisy Cutter was on multiple occasions.

Daisy Cutter in action:

The 22,600lb, 30 foot long weapon is used for attacking soft targets dispersed over a large physical area, such as anti-aircraft emplacements or trenches, and is especially deadly for attacking cave and tunnel systems, and forces concentrated in mountainous terrain. Like its Daisy Cutter progenitor, it can also be used to clear landing zones and minefields as well. 

The MOAB has been forward deployed to the middle east for a decade and a half, but it has never been used until today., USAF

MOAB can be delivered by C-130 via being hauled out the rear ramp via drogue chute before entering a free-fall stage. It uses GPS and inertial guidance coupled to maneuvering fins to strike its targeted area with high-accuracy, unlike the unguided Daisy Cutter. Because it does not require a parachute for its entire drop phase, the aircraft launching the MOAB can fly higher than those that launched the Daisy Cutter could. 

The MOAB primarily leverages 18,700lbs of “H6” for its explosive fuel, which is a mix of roughly 45 percent RDX and Nitrocellulose, 30 percent TNT and 20 percent aluminum powder, along with five percent of other compounds. The aluminum powder accelerates the speed at which the blast develops and increases its overall pressure. 

MOAB detonates just above the ground, allowing the blast to spread out laterally. Its casing is made of light aluminum so as not to interfere with the blast’s potential. Its blast radius is said to be about a mile wide, but supposedly it can still do significant damage and even cause serious injury over about two miles. It is a ferocious and nasty weapon, and like its Daisy Cutter ancestor, its use can be as much about its psychological effects as it is about its physical effects. 

MOAB under construction. , DoD

It will be most interesting to hear more about the Pentagon’s decision to use MOAB. Was the use of one of these weapons, which supposedly we only have a handful of, really necessary and if so why? Obviously doing so would make major headlines, and the administration nor the Pentagon have been hush-hush about its use, so hopefully we can get some detail about what justification there was to employ it. The biggest question being why couldn’t a series of smaller thermobaric and high-explosive bombs be used instead of something as exotic and wide-reaching as MOAB? We also don’t know if President Trump was involved with the decision to put MOAB to use for the first time.

On the other hand, if ISIS was occupying a fairly large but centralized area where innocent lives were not at risk, and they had built tunnels and fortifications that smaller air-dropped munitions would have a hard time striking, then why not put MOAB to use? Using troops to clear such an area would be a needless risk to soldiers’ lives. 

On top of sucking the air out of anyone’s lungs within the vicinity of its detonation, and creating a massive and very hot shockwave, the psychological effects of the sounds and tremors from the blast, as well as the resulting widespread devastation following its use would be just a bonus.

We will keep this post updated as more information comes available.

Update 12pm PST: Here’s the official statement on the MOAB’s use, and it pretty much sums up the weaponeering for the target in question-

DoD Document

An updated story with FLIR video of the strike can be seen here. 

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