The US Just Used the Biggest Non-Nuclear Bomb in History

April 13th 2017

Mike Rothschild

The United States just dropped "the Mother of All Bombs" in Afghanistan, targeting the Islamic State with the never-before-used GBU-43/B Massive Ordinance Air Blast — the biggest explosive short of a nuclear weapon.

The bomb was developed for use in Iraq but was never dropped there (the name is a reference to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's warning that Operation Desert Storm would be the "mother of all battles"). The weapon reportedly weighs 22,600 pounds, most of which is high explosives, and has has a yield of 11 tons of TNT (the Hiroshima nuke was 20,000 tons, by contrast). Each one costs $16 million.

News reports say the weapon was used against an ISIS tunnel complex in a rural area near the Pakistani border. It's likely purpose was to either collapse a hardened entrance or force enemy combatants out of the tunnels. 

General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, seemed to confirm this, issuing a statement on the MOAB's use that claimed "as ISIS losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense. This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive."

With tension rising over North Korea's nuclear program, it should be noted that the MOAB is not designed as a ground penetrating or bunker-busting weapon to use against underground facilities. The U.S. has another bomb for that: the 30,000 pound GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

Given the timing of the bomb's use, the president's critics are speculating the move was a ploy by Donald Trump to distract from other controversies. Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to answer when asked whether Trump himself authorized the MOAB's use.