For the first time ever, the United States used the most powerful non-nuclear bomb from its arsenal. That’s right, the US military dropped what it calls the mother of all bombs on a tunnel network in Eastern Afghanistan. Although the GBU-43 is officially called the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, it picked up the nickname “mother of all bombs” due to its abbreviation and its giant size. But what is this seemingly new weapon, and is it really nearly as powerful as a nuclear bomb? We thought we’d take a closer look at the specs of the MOAB in this episode of The Infographics Show, “The Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb.”
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Developed by Albert L. Weimorts, Jr. in 2002, the MOAB was very nearly used in an attempt to take out Saddam Hussein, the then dictator of Iraq. But US Generals at the time were concerned that it would inadvertently hurt or kill civilians, and they ultimately decided against its use.
Since 2003, 15 MOABS have been manufactured. According to the the engineers who designed them, the bomb weighs approximately 22,600 lbs, is around 30 feet in length, and has a diameter of about 40 inches. Most importantly, however, it has an explosive yield of 11 tons of TNT, or 46 billion joules.
The surviving Afghanis who were relatively close to the blast site described the effects of the bomb as feeling “like the heavens were falling.” This should come as no surprise since the explosive energy released by a MOAB is roughly the same as that unleashed during an M6.0 earthquake.
The detonation itself is caused by a mixture of TNT (80 percent) and aluminum powder (20 percent), which is a highly explosive mixture known as Tritonal. The addition of aluminum helps the TNT ignite and reach an extremely high pressure far quicker than TNT would be able to do alone.
Guided to the ground by GPS after being literally pulled out of a massive C-130 cargo aircraft by parachute, the MOAB doesn’t detonate upon impact. Instead, it explodes in the air above its target at a height of just 6 feet (1.8 meters). The bomb is so destructive that it has an actual bomb blast radius of 1 mile from the epicenter (1.6 kilometers), obliterating anything and everything in its path.
These death dealers don’t come cheap, however; each MOAB costs approximately $170,000, with some experts suggesting that Research and Development for the bomb cost as much as $300 million.
A little known fact about the MOAB is that it was originally painted green because the military was in such a rush to get the weapon into their inventory in 2003, and the only color available in the amount they needed was John Deere green.
And finally, for those who feel assured that at least the bomb is in American hands, we have bad news for you: Russia has its own version, called, rather predictably, the “Father of All Bombs” and apparently it’s four times as powerful as the MOAB. No wonder Vladimir Putin horseback rides around town topless as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. Spasiba, Mother Russia!