The US’s GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) is a precision-guided munition weighing 21,500 pounds and was dropped from a C-130 Hercules aircraft. The MOAB isn’t the heaviest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal (that’s the 30,000-pound Massive Ordinance Penetrator ), but with a length of 30 feet and an estimated cost of $15.7 million , it’s a very powerful military equipment. The GPS-guided bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs” is capable of destroying an area equivalent to nine city blocks.
On 13th April 2017, the United States Military dropped the MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat, on a network of fortified underground tunnels that ISIS had been using to stage attacks on government forces. In free-fall, the MOAB quickly detached from its pallet and deployed course-adjusting grid fins. Guided by GPS system and computer, those fins bent the MOAB’s Earthward course toward a pre-selected target. In this case, that target was an underground ISIS tunnel complex, according to the Department of Defense. On the 15th April, Afghanistan’s defence ministry reported the death of 94 militants including 4 major commanders and that no civilians had been killed in the strike.
US and Afghan forces had been unable to advance because ISIS — which has expanded into Afghanistan in recent years — had mined the area with explosives. The rocky landscape is dotted with caves and defensive tunnels, making it easy to hold and hard to attack, according to Nic Robertson, CNN’s international diplomatic editor, who has reported from the Afghan mountains.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he approved of the strike and that it was designed to support Afghan and US forces conducting clearance operations in the region. But former President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of using Afghanistan as “a testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”
The decision to use the MOAB at this time was probably as much political as it was strategic. “More than anything, anytime you drop one of these you want to make an audacious statement, in this case to reinforce our resolve to fight in Afghanistan,” says Edward Priest, a former Air Force Special Operations combat controller who retired from the military in 2015, adding they produce a large mushroom cloud that can be seen for miles.
China’s arms industry giant NORINCO for the first time in Jan 2018 showcased a new type of massive aerial bomb, which it dubbed the Chinese version of the “Mother of All Bombs” due to its huge destruction potential that is claimed to be only second to nuclear weapons.
“These types of bombs were developed as much for their psychological impact as anything else,” A. J. Clark, a former military intelligence analyst says. The military uses “bunker buster” bombs to penetrate the ground in certain situations, but the caves they were targeting are likely too deep for something like that to have any effect, Clark adds.
China showcases own version of ‘Mother of All Bombs’
China’s arms industry giant NORINCO for the first time showcased a new type of massive aerial bomb, which it dubbed the Chinese version of the “Mother of All Bombs” due to its huge destruction potential that is claimed to be only second to nuclear weapons. The bomb was airdropped by an H-6K bomber and caused a gigantic explosion, a promotional video China North Industries Group Corporation Limited (NORINCO) released on its website in December shows.
This is the first time the new bomb’s destructive powers have been shown in public, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday on its mobile application. Calling the several-ton-weapon a Chinese version of the “Mother of All Bombs,” the report said that it is China’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb, and that the H-6K bomber could only carry one at a time due to its size. Judging from the video and the size of the H-6K’s bomb bay, this bomb is approximately five to six meters long, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the Global Times on Thursday.
“The massive blast can easily and completely wipe out fortified ground targets such as reinforced buildings, bastions and defense shelters,” Wei said. It can also be used to clear a landing zone for troops on helicopters to rappel down, in case the area is covered by obstacles such as forests, Wei noted. The weapon will also spread fear among enemies if a weapon of this caliber is deployed, military observers noted.
The US wields a similar weapon, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB,) which was first to dubbed the “Mother of All Bombs” because of its acronym and power. A MOAB was dropped on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan in 2017, the New York Times reported. Wei said that the Chinese bomb is smaller and lighter than the US one, enabling it to be deployed on the H-6K bomber.
The US bomb is so large that it has to be carried by a larger transport aircraft rather than a bomber, Wei said, noting that a bomber can fly faster and is better at targeting than a transport aircraft, and the Chinese bomb’s designer must have had this in mind when it produced the bomb to fit the H-6K.
To match the US weapon, Russia developed the “Father of All Bombs” which is both bigger and thermobaric, meaning it uses gas to create a huge fireball rather than a shockwave, Wired reported. Some military observers speculated that the Chinese bomb is also thermobaric. However, a NORINCO representative told the Global Times that the bomb shown in the video is not a thermobaric weapon, but did not provide additional details.
Mother of all bombs (MOAB) and its effectiveness
Unlike a bomb designed to actually penetrate a building or the ground, the MOAB (also called a fuel-air bomb) has a “proximity fuse” on its nose that ignites the warhead when it reaches a certain altitude—which might be anywhere between 50 and 1,000 feet.“When they blow up, they blast fuel into the air,” Priest explains. “That fuel atomizes. Then there’s a secondary explosion that lights the fuel that’s been atomized.”
MOAB weapon propels its flame and shock waves horizontally, rather than vertically. An air blast bomb “doesn’t throw out a lot of fragmentation like you’d expect from a normal bomb—it’s all blast overpressure, which can blow down trees and use the trees themselves as the fragmentation,” Priest says. “Overpressure” is a term for the sharp spike in air pressure that a bomb causes. That change in pressure moves away from the bomb in a wave in all directions.
When a bomb explodes in the air, the overpressure waves still spread out in all directions, including downward. But the downward-moving waves bounce when they strike the Earth, flying back up through the hot region of thin air that the detonation created just moments earlier. In hot, thin air, pressure waves move faster. So the bounced waves can catch up with the one created in the initial explosion as it continues to spread outward and sideways above the ground. Those waves combine, forming a ” mach stem ” that can increase the initial force of the explosion by as much as two times.
That mach stem wildly expands the bomb’s kill zone, and creates a larger downward force on the earth that can collapse tunnels and explode mines below the surface without wasting energy carving out huge craters. The effect is to knock over trees, buildings and other infrastructure, collapse cave entrances and underground facilities and kill, maim or demoralise enemy combatants.
“That type of bomb wouldn’t work well, for example, to destroy tanks, although the overpressure would kill the people in them. You’d overpressure the people hiding in the caves there. You’d never find them—it just blows your lungs out of your mouth. It kind of turns you inside out.”
The designers’ goal was to produce the most intense non-nuclear airborne blast possible for a given weight and size — while still being deliverable by plane — at a reasonable cost and with precision-guided accuracy. To keep weight down, as well as maximize the force of the blast, the MOAB was designed with a very thin aluminum bomb casing. The thin, light, aluminum casing allows for a bomb that is 85 percent explosive by weight. In contrast, general-purpose bombs typically contain less than 50 percent of explosives by weight. The thin, relatively weak casing also means that the vast majority of the explosive energy (about 85 to 90 percent) goes into producing a blast wave. In contrast, our general-purpose bombs use about 40 percent of their explosive energy to fragment their casing, with 60 percent left over to produce the blast wave.
300 feet from ground zero, the MOAB’s hemispherical blast wave generates its 20 psi of reflective overpressure over a massive surface area greater than 100 million square inches, while simultaneously producing winds that will briefly reach over 500 miles per hour. Any mines, tunnels, or human bodies caught in the blast would be unrecognizable after it passed. Assuming flat, unobstructed terrain, the MOAB will destroy most residential structures within 1,000 feet of the point of detonation. At 700 feet from ground zero, most buildings will be collapsed. And at 300 feet from ground zero, even heavily built concrete structures will be severely damaged or destroyed, writes Mike Fredenburg. The reason the lethal blast radius is not larger is that the explosive force experienced by an object is in the inverse ratio of the cube of the distance from the point of explosion (ground zero).
Analysis of Post-strike high resolution satellite imagery by Alcis showed that although the blast did not create a significant crater on the ground, the destruction was absolute of approximately 20 compounds and trees, 650 metres to the southwest of the centre of the village of Asadkhel and close to the villages of Tangai and Lansai Ahmad and 3 kms from Shadal Bazaar. Trees were also shredded and torn out by the roots. Undoubtedly, anyone in those structures or who was caught in the open perished.
But detonating a MOAB on uneven, rocky, mountainous terrain such as that found at the ISIS complex is not the same as detonating it over flat terrain. This reality is demonstrated by the photos taken after the explosion showing intact trees with leaves just a few hundred feet from ground zero. Apparently, the trees were protected by the terrain and did not experience winds of hundreds of miles per hour.
As originally conceived, the MOAB was to be used against large formations of troops and equipment or hardened above-ground bunkers. The target set has been expanded to include targets buried under softer surfaces, such as caves or tunnels. In terms of shaping the battlefield, it has been posited that the MOAB’s massive explosions are so much larger than other weapons that it takes “shock and awe” to a new level. Couple that with its ability to attack enemies in locations formerly thought secure, and you have a weapon that creates FUD — Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt — in the mind of the enemy. If you can create FUD in the mind of the enemy, you are shaping the battlefield to your advantage.
Is MOAB a nanoweapon?
Although MOAB carries only about 8 tons of explosives, the explosive mixture delivers a destructive impact equivalent of 11 tons of TNT. According to Louis Del Monte , an award winning physicist, inventor, futurist, featured speaker, CEO of Del Monte and Associates, Inc the TNT and powdered aluminum account for over half the explosive payload ( H6),by weight. According to him, “It is highly likely that the “powdered aluminum” is nanoaluminum, since nanoaluminum can enhance the destructive properties of TNT. This argues that H6 is a nano-enhanced explosive, making the MOAB a nanoweapon.”
The United States GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) was the largest non-nuclear bomb known until Russia detonated the Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power, termed the “father of all bombs” (FOAB), in 2007. It is reportedly four times more destructive than the MOAB, even though it carries only 7 tons of explosives versus the 8 tons of the MOAB. Interestingly, the Russians claim to achieve the more destructive punch using nanotechnology.