By Larry Greenemeier
The idea of dropping an air-blast bomb—even if it’s the largest nonnuclear ordnance ever used by the U.S. in combat—to target fighters holed up in tunnels deep underground might at first seem counterintuitive. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, or “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB), which the Air Force unleashed on ISIS fighters and tunnels Thursday in the Achin District of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, never actually struck the ground. But the massive crunch of air pressure created by the nearly 22,000-pound MOAB would have wiped out anyone in the vicinity, and certainly sent a clear signal that the Trump administration is willing to use unprecedented force.
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—says Edward Priest, a former Air Force Special Operations combat controller who retired from the military in 2015. “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.”
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. “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.”
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