You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Mother Of All Bombs: What is it and why is the US now using it to fight Islamic State?

ABC News logo ABC News 14/04/2017 Steven Viney,

The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb is pictured in this undated handout photo. © REUTERS/Elgin Air Force Base/Handout The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb is pictured in this undated handout photo.

On Friday, the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) became the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped on a battlefield after the US unexpectedly unleashed one on a network of Islamic State targets in Afghanistan.

Observers were almost instantly stunned as 2003 file footage surfaced of the nearly-10,000kg weapon — commonly referred to as the Mother Of All Bombs — demonstrating its destructive capabilities amid the seemingly randomly timed deployment of a previously dormant device.

US President Donald Trump was quick to hail the bomb's deployment a "success", but the elephant in the room remained: why now?

Here we answer some questions:

What is the 'Mother Of All Bombs'?

The MOAB is a large-yield conventional (non-nuclear) GPS-guided munition weapon first designed in 2002 by Air Force Research Laboratory for the US military.

It was reportedly first publicly tested in the days leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq in order to win a "psychological" war to deter Saddam Hussein.

It weighs in at roughly 10,000 kilograms, is 10 metres long and one metre wide and packs 8,000 kilograms of explosives — in comparison, the average weight of most deployed conventional bombs is roughly 250 kilograms.

Therefore, the MOAB is not only staggeringly powerful for a conventional bomb, but so physically heavy it cannot be deployed using conventional bombers.

To be delivered, it must be carried in a cargo plane, like the MC-130 used on Friday, and sucked out of the back of the cabin hold on a pallet via a massive parachute before being guided by satellite, with remarkable accuracy, to its target.

How does it differ to other bombs?

Unlike most conventional bombs, the MOAB is designed to take out field-fortified targets — like caves, canyons and tunnels — that are not easily reachable.

It is what is known as a thermobaric weapon which is a type of explosive that uses oxygen from surrounding air to generate an intense, high-temperature blast wave that packs an incredible amount of energy into a small, localised location.

Whereas most conventional bombs consist of a mix of fuel and oxygen-generating substances, thermobaric weapons are almost entirely 100 per cent fuel, meaning they rely on atmospheric oxygen.

This quality is what allows the MOAB's intensive blast wave to travel through underground, oxygen-filled networks, like underground tunnels and caves.

Why has it never been used before?

The MOAB's massive size, in addition to its powerful thermobaric qualities that cause devastating surface destruction are said by analysts to be two of the main reasons it has not previously been used on the battlefield.

The bomb was reportedly transported to Iraq in the early years of the conflict, but never used.

When fighting in densely populated areas, as most of the US's battles have been fought in the years leading up to 2017, the MOAB was considered far from optimal due to the immense potential it has to cause colossal collateral damage.

Analysts have speculated the reason the US may have decided to use it now, is that the network of Islamic State tunnels and caves targeted were located in Afghanistan's desolate Achin district of Nangarhar, near the Pakistani border.

The US military has said the targets consisted primarily of a large number of Islamic State militants, both on the surface and in underground tunnels, making the target unusually suitable for a MOAB.

However, the prescription offered by the US military has yet to be confirmed, and the damage from the latest attack yet to be assessed.

Is it the world's biggest conventional bomb?

For all its destructive capabilities, the MOAB is still only the second largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal, coming second only to the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) which has yet never been used in combat.

Unlike the MOAB, which detonates shortly before hitting the surface making it capable of destroying both building and networks just below the surface, like tunnels and caves, the MOP is able to penetrate much deeper and reportedly takeout military bunkers.

Meanwhile, Russia currently has in its arsenal what it refers to as the Father Of All Bombs (FOAB).

Developed in 2007, the FOAB, while smaller in size than the MOAB, is said to be four times more powerful, with a blast radius nearly twice that of the MOAB's kilometre-plus blast radius.

While the FOAB was tested for the first time 10 years ago, it has still, like the US MOP, never been used on the battlefield.

Whether or not this will change following the US decision to unleash the MOAB, is yet to be seen.

What does this mean for the future war?

It is still far too early to tell, but experts say the bombing may open up a "can of worms" considering Russia has the FOAB.

The head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, Professor John Blaxland, told the ABC increasing the threshold of violence in the region will no doubt have unintended, knock-on consequences.

But he added the bombing would have a "shocking" effect on terror groups operating in Afghanistan.

"This is telegraphing to the opponents of the Government in Kabul that the United States … is now upping the ante, and is prepared to kill many people to achieve its political end-state," he said.

"If that's the outcome, that would be the silver lining to a very dark cloud we've just seen blowing up above the skies of Nangarhar," he said.

"The problem is, of course, we know that this is perhaps one head of a hydra. And while it's probably looking close to being decapitated, we really haven't dealt with the core issues here."

More From ABC News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon