The Facts on the MOAB

The estimated United State’s Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB, or popularly known as “Mother of All Bombs”) bomb’s cost has been floating around the internet quoted at figures ranging from $16 million to as high as $314 million dollars. The truth is each MOAB costs $170,000 per unit, according to the US Air Force. The weapon was produced by the Air Force, not by a third party.

The weapon was first tested in March 2003, just before the US invasion of Iraq. The MOAB weighs about 22,600 pounds, and is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal (although Russia has the “Father of All Bombs” which is 4 times as powerful). However, it still is nothing compared to nuclear weapons. The US nuclear arsenal, for example contains the B83, a thermonuclear weapon that’s 110,000 times more explosive, and that’s not including the radioactive fallout.

It is incredibly energetic, nonetheless. The explosive energy released by a MOAB is equivalent to a M.60 earthquake. It is packed with H6 explosive, which is about 1.35 times more powerful than pure TNT for a 11-ton yield over a 1-mile radius. The MOAB mixture is known as Tritonal, a mixture of 80% TNT and 20% aluminum powder. The addition of aluminum helps the TNT ignite and reach an extremely high pressure far quicker than TNT would be able to alone.

Guided to the ground by GPS after being pushed out of a modified C-130 transport plane (the only plane that can drop this behemoth), the MOAB doesn’t detonate upon impact. Instead, it explodes in the air above its target at a height of 6 feet.

The “air burst” technique was investigated during the development of nuclear weapons. When such weapons explode, they create a massive “overpressure” bubble that expands rapidly outwards. The lower part of this bubble will impact the ground and rebound upwards and outwards. Thanks to the extremely fast-moving air already inside the bubble, this reflected wave front will then reach the rest of the outwardly expanding overpressure bubble (“mach stem”) boosting the pressure even more.

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The formation of a mach stem. SiriusB/Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain

This technique intensifies the destructive damage in a way that a ground-based detonation can’t. The bomb itself is 30 feet long and 40 inches in diameter. It can only be dropped from specially modified C-130 transport planes.

The MOAB has a 15 year shelf life (expires next year, which makes sense why this bomb was chosen) and 19 total were created. The MOAB has a blast radius of 1 mile and reportedly killed 94 ISIS fighters, including 4 commanders last Thursday (about $1,800 per ISIS member, money well spent). The US military previously estimated ISIS had 600 to 800 active fighters in the area. What are your thoughts?

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