I’ve never seen such media angst directed at a single bomb. The GBU-43/B, MOAB has been called the “mother of all bombs.” But it’s just a very large bomb, that generates an overpressure shockwave designed to collapse tunnels or caves. For it to create this shockwave, it has to be big, and it has to explode in the air–hence “MOAB” means “Massive Ordnance Air Blast.”
It’s not really a big deal. This isn’t a bunker buster. It’s not a nuclear weapon. It’s not even close to a nuclear weapon. MOAB’s yield is just 11 tons of TNT. The smallest nuclear warhead in the U.S. inventory, the W-76, has an estimated yield of 100 kilotons. That’s 9,090 times the explosive power of MOAB. Math, people!
(For comparison, the Hiroshima bomb yield was approximately 15 kilotons, or 1,363 times MOAB’s yield.)
Considering that MOAB is filled with 18,700 pounds of H-6 explosive (about 9.3 tons), the “biggest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal” is not really doing much multiplication when it explodes.
In fact, H-6 is generally used for underwater explosives like mines, depth charges and torpedoes. If you drop a giant cylinder full of the stuff over a target and let it go boom, it creates this huge pressure wave. At the right altitude, that pressure wave will weaken underground structures and possibly collapse them.
The only alternative to using MOAB when faced with a large tunnel or cave network is to send in troops to clear it. In Vietnam, these troops were called “tunnel rats.” If you want to read about the worst job in the U.S. Army (or any other army), the most terrifying, nightmare-inducing, phobia-triggering job there is, read about the tunnel rats.
Sending troops in to clear tunnels (which must be done or we let the enemy win), is frequently a death sentence. Here’s what Wikipedia said about the job of the tunnel rat:
Whenever troops would uncover a tunnel, tunnel rats were sent in to kill any hiding enemy soldiers and to plant explosives to destroy the tunnels. A tunnel rat was equipped with only a standard issue .45 caliber pistol, a bayonet and a flashlight, although most tunnel rats were allowed to choose another pistol with which to arm themselves. The tunnels were very dangerous, with numerous booby traps and enemies lying in wait.
Sounds like a veritable party. Every trip is your own personal wake, funeral, and free burial.
Israel faces a continual challenge dealing with Hamas tunnels. They don’t have the luxury of terrain to drop massive air burst weapons, since their own civilians and Palestinian civilians live within a few football fields from the tunnels. Afghanistan has vast stretches of mountainous, difficult terrain, perfect for building fortified tunnel complexes. Dropping MOAB there saves American lives.
Here’s what the Washington Post dug up in 2014 from professor of history and warfare expert Gerard DeGroot about tunnels and asymmetric conflicts like Israel’s. Why should this cease to be true today?
The value of tunnels is magnified in asymmetric conflicts, in which a small insurgent force takes on a larger, more powerful enemy. In the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea (132-136 A.D.), Jewish rebels used tunnels to launch lightning commando raids on superior Roman forces, the aim being to sow fear and undermine morale. The Americans encountered essentially the same threat in Vietnam. In that war, the main problem facing GIs was not fighting the enemy but finding it. Viet Cong rebels would hide in vast tunnel complexes such as those at Cu Chi, emerge to launch an ambush and then disappear. The Cu Chi tunnels, which extended more than 200 miles, could house thousands of troops for long periods. The facility included ammunition stores, dormitories, meeting rooms, hospitals and even cinemas.
And I bet those tunnel rats in Vietnam would have given anything to have the MOAB. Also, the Soviets used tunnel rats in their war in Afghanistan. You know, the one they lost.
Dropping the MOAB on Afghanistan was a military decision, made by a military given freedom to act like soldiers not diplomats by President Trump. As for what some of the troops thought, read David French’s explanation of a series of tweets by his Army friend Johnny (Joey) Jones, who lost his legs fighting in Afghanistan.
We begged to use bombs on the minefield ghost town I lost my legs clearing. But by all means-continue your rhetorically righteous tweeting. https://t.co/OoyoxZzZtV
— Johnny (Joey) Jones (@Johnny_Joey) April 13, 2017
President Obama’s years of diplomacy and excessive restraint in rules of engagement resulted in a prolonged war and an emboldened, rearmed, and resupplied Taliban. MOAB was developed specifically for the purpose of fighting this war. As Erick tweeted, we wouldn’t be needing it if Obama had not dropped the ball.
MOAB is not a big deal. It’s a big bomb designed for a very specific purpose, for which physics demands it be big. It’s not just a notch below a nuclear weapon. I wish the media would stop with their breathless stupidity.