With the United States announcing the first battlefield use of its largest, non-nuclear bomb against ISIS in Afghanistan, I wanted to examine the background of these highly destructive thermobaric ordnances and how the American version nicknamed the "Mother of All Bombs" compares to Russia's version, nicknamed the "Father of All Bombs".
The United States military GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb or MOAB (nicknamed the "Mother of All Bombs") was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and was first tested on March 11k 2003 at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Here are the key characteristics of the MOAB:
Weight - 21,700 pounds
Skin - Aluminum
Guidance - GPS using grid fins and inertial gyro
Length - 30 feet
Diameter - 40.5 inches
Explosive - 18,700 pounds of H6, TNT and aluminum
Blast Yield - 11 tons or 22,000 pounds
Blast Radius - 150 metres or 492 feet
The MOAB is launched from a cradle located on an airdrop platform inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft and is designed to launch at high altitude. Because of its massive size, it is extracted from the aircraft by way of a drogue parachute which extracts the weapon, cradle and platform. The weapon is then released from its cradle and grid fins open and guide the weapon to its target. By using an aluminum skin, the explosive power of the MOAB is not constrained as it would be with a stronger metal. At a range of 1000 yards (914 metres) from the point of detonation, the MOAB is capable of destroying everything. Up to 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometres), the shockwave is capable of killing people and causing severe damage to structures.
Here is a background video on the MOAB:
Here is a photo of the MOAB:
Now, let's compare the MOAB to Russia's version of its largest, non-nuclear bomb, the Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power or ATBIP, nicknamed the Father of All Bombs (FOAB). The ATBIP was first field tested on September 11, 2007. It is designed by the Russian military and can be dropped from an aircraft on a parachute. Here are the key characteristics of this highly classified weapon:
Weight - 15,650 pounds
Explosive - high explosive, aluminum powder and ethylene oxide
Yield - approximately 44 tons or 88,000 pounds
Blast Radius - 300 metres or 984 feet
The official state video shows that the ATBIP is dropped from the bomb bay of a Tu160 and falls to its detonation altitude on a parachute, however, some experts believe that it is most likely to be released by a slow-flying cargo plane because it appears to be launched using a drag parachute. It is exploded in mid-air which provides maximum destruction. At 200 metres from the epicentre, all unfortified and concrete structures are destroyed. At 300 metres from the epicentre, unfortified structures like homes are completely destroyed and reinforced structures are partly destroyed. At 1100 metres from the epicentre, the shock wave is capable of breaking glass and at 2300 metres from the epicentre, the shock wave is still powerful enough to knock a person down. While some defense analysts dispute the power of Russia's ATBIP, there is no doubt that it is capable of delivering extremely destructive forces on its target.
Here is a video with some information on the ATBIP/FOAB:
Both of these massive thermobaric bombs have the same operating principle; the massive amount of explosives contained in the device combine with atmospheric oxygen to create an explosive blast that penetrates huge volumes of space. After the cloud is ignited, a vacuum is created and air rushes into the void, resulting in total devastation. Unlike traditional munitions which rely on metal fragments propelled by an explosive, thermobaric weapons release a massive shockwave that is capable of destroying massive above and below ground structures including cave complexes.
From this posting, you can see that both Russia and the United States have developed non-nuclear munitions that are capable of inflicting significant damage, similar to what was experienced by Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. It seems that the only upside to these weapons is the fact that, while they decimate life over a wide radius, they don't leave behind that messy radioactive fallout that survivors have to deal with.