Armed with more than 8,000 kilogrammes of explosives, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) – or the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ as it is more commonly known – is the most powerful conventional [read non-nuclear] weapon in the United States’ military arsenal.
It has an explosion equal to 11 tonnes of TNT and a blast radius as wide as a mile. In the words of Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank, “What it does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and light the air on fire… It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”
Until 2007 – when Russia tested the Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP) or the ‘Father of All Bombs’ as it was dubbed – the MOAB had been the most powerful conventional bomb in the entire world.
Developed by Albert L Weimorts Jr of the US Air Force Research Laboratory, the MOAB was designed as the very personification of ‘shock and awe’ strategy that was integral to then president George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
The concept for the weapon was inspired by the BLU-82 Daisy Cutter, which US forces first used to clear heavily wooded areas in the Vietnam War. The Daisy Cutter was also used in Iraq in the 2000s, first to clear mines and late to intimidate the Iraqi military into submission.
Interestingly, the need for the MOAB arose once the US ran out of Daisy Cutters and wanted to retain the ability to strike terror in the heart of ‘enemy combatants’.
What brings the MOAB into the 21st century is its satellite-guided targeted system. While Russia’s ATBIP may have dethroned the MOAB as the most potent conventional weapon, at 10,000 kilogrammes the latter is still the heaviest – and strongest – precision guided weapon system.
Its massive size, however, means that MOAB can only be delivered by variants of the C-130 Hercules aircraft. The bomb is carried in a cradle on a platform in the C-130’s cargo hold and is delivered to its target by parachute.
Despite its huge payload, the bomb is designed to only destroy softer targets, such as cave systems, as opposed to reinforced structures such as bunkers.