The Pentagon has been using the term “shock and awe” to describe the campaign military planners envision for the approaching war with Iraq. We may just have gotten an idea about what this means: On Tuesday, the Air Force tested what is described as the most powerful conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the so-called Massive Ordnance Air-burst Bomb or MOAB. This weapon, tested at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle, is also apparently known as the “mother of all bombs.”
The MOAB is a follow-on to the BLU-82 “daisy-cutter,” a 15,000-pound fuel-air-explosive weapon originally designed to clear helicopter-landing zones in Vietnam. The daisy cutter also saw action in the first Gulf War and more recently in Afghanistan, where along with the BLU-118/B thermobaric weapon, it was used against al Qaeda troops in fortified caves.
The MOAB seems to be a blast-only version of a weapon designed to destroy buried hardened targets. This so-called direct-strike hard-target weapon (DSHTW) features a cobalt-alloy bomb body that enables it to penetrate to depths of up to 100-feet underground before detonating.
Defense officials reportedly describe the purpose of the weapon as primarily “psychological.” The daisy cutter was employed in such a role during the 1991 Gulf War. DoD has certainly made no effort to keep the effects of this weapon secret. This lack of secrecy meshes with another recent news report claiming that a centerpiece of a campaign of shock and awe would be the purposeful destruction of an Iraqi Republican Guard unit as an incentive to others to surrender. A fuel-air explosion of the magnitude generated by a MOAB resembles a small nuclear detonation. If I were on the receiving end of such a weapon, or observed the effects of a MOAB strike, that would certainly seem like shock and awe to me.