The United States announced Thursday that it dropped the largest non-nuclear weapon in its arsenal on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan.
The use of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, also known as the MOAB, is the first time the weapon has been used in combat.
First debuting in 2003, the weapon’s development plan was accelerated by the Department of Defense with the intent to possibly use in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but due to the bomb’s considerable size, only special circumstances warrant its use. Following the invasion, it was deemed there was no target that would be appropriate for such a massive weapon.
Initial reports say that the General John Nicholson, commander of Operation Resolute Support and all US forces in Afghanistan was the approving authority for the use of the MOAB. The target was a cave complex in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. The complex was reportedly well defended with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and personnel, and was deemed too risky to be cleared by soldiers on the ground.
The Islamic State has carved out a presence in Afghanistan emanating from Nangarhar Province. Multiple offensives have been launched by the Afghan government to eliminate their presence, with little success.
The MOAB is over 30 feet long and weighs 22,600 pounds, and is designed to be delivered via a C-130 or one of its variants, which are primarily used for transporting cargo, not for bombing targets. The sheer size of the MOAB necessitates its delivery in this fashion.
The blast from the bomb is roughly equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, and has a blast radius of one mile in every direction.
The MOAB’s spiritual predecessor, the Daisy Cutter bomb, had been used since the Vietnam war. There it was used to clear heavily forested areas instantaneously, as well as demoralize enemy soldiers. The bomb saw use during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan at the Battle of Tora Bora. It was retired in 2008 and replaced by the MOAB.
Image courtesy of Der Spiegel