The MOAB Is One of the Biggest Non-Nuclear U.S. Bombs
The 'biggest' depends on how you define it
The United States Air Force has dropped one of the largest non-nuclear bombs ever built on an ISIS tunnel network in Afghanistan. The weapon—called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast—was dropped from an MC-130 belonging to U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command.
The Pentagon stated that the bomb targeted a network of tunnels in eastern Nangarhar province. Thirty-six ISIS militants died in the strike, according to the U.S. military.
The GBU-43—a 22,600-pound weapon with 18,700 pounds of H-6 explosive filler—is an inertially guided weapon that relies on GPS course corrections just like the JDAM series weapons.
When the GBU-43/B was originally developed, it was the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever built, but has been surpassed by other weapons.
“The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB pronounced (commonly known as the Mother of All Bombs) is a large-yield conventional (non-nuclear) bomb, developed for the United States,” the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum states on its site. “At the time of development, it was touted as the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever designed.”
The GBU-43/B is not a penetrating weapon and is generally intended for use against softer targets in confined spaces such as caves or canyons. In other words—it’s perfect for use against concentrations of insurgent fighters in Afghanistan.
While many media sources tout the GBU-43/B as the largest conventional bomb ever built, it’s not really the case.
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) April 14, 2017
The U.S. Air Force also fields the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which is a massive precision-guided 30,000-pound bunker-busting weapon that is usually dropped from a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
However, the GBU-57A/B only contains 5,300 pounds of explosive filler—the vast bulk of the weapon comes from the hardened casing.
The casing is what allows the massive GBU-57 weapon to penetrate some of the hardest bunkers potential adversaries have built. The Air Force is currently developing a Next Generation Penetrator Munition to replace the MOP as enemy fortifications become ever more hardened and deeply buried.
Meanwhile, not to be out done, Russia’s ATBIP—though physically smaller than the GBU-43/B—has a much larger explosive yield. That is, if it really exists.
Based around thermobaric explosives, the ATBIP—sometimes called the “Father of All Bombs”–has the destructive power equivalent to roughly 88,000 pounds of TNT, which is roughly four times that of the MOAB.
The Russian weapon also has roughly double the blast radius.
Of course, none of these conventional weapons comes close to the power of a nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons—for their relatively diminutive physical size—offer unparalleled destructive power.
America’s premier tactical nuclear weapon, the B-61 thermonuclear bomb, weighs roughly 700 pounds but could—depending on the variant—have a yield of 340 kilotons.
Indeed, the Little Boy—the primitive atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima—physically weighed 9,700 pounds but offered a yield of 15 kilotons or many orders of magnitude greater than even that largest conventional bomb.