Five years later, it's still known as 'Mother of all bombs'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stacia Zachary
  • 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
What's worse than unleashing on society the wrath of the largest non-nuclear bomb yet to be made? Letting the world know it's out there and ready to be used at any moment.

The guided bomb unit-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb is a 21,600 pound, Global Positioning System-guided munition with precision guidance and architecture to be delivered accurately to enemy forces with the main intention of permanently disabling them. The goal was to put pressure on then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to cease and desist United Nations violations.

"The goal is to have the pressure be so great that Saddam Hussein cooperates," said then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a March 2003 interview. "Short of that -- an unwillingness to cooperate -- the goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the coalition."

While the history books have well-documented the day of MOAB's final day of testing -- March 11, 2003 at 1 p.m. a huge mushroom cloud could be seen from 20 miles away -- much of the design and ramp up for producing it have been little talked about.

The MOAB, nicknamed the "Mother of all bombs," was rapidly produced in-house by  Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate officials at Eglin Air Force Base. It started out simply as an idea and quickly made its way to the lab for prototype production. The request came during Thanksgiving 2002 and was originally designed as a replacement for the BLU-82 Daisy Cutter. One unique characteristic would later define the MOAB from the Daisy Cutter: It was satellite guided or a "smart bomb."

"We were asked to generate a prototype and we were asked to work out the bugs so that it might evolve into something that could be produced (for the warfighter)," said Robert Hammack, the AFRL Munitions Directorate Munitions Fabrication Facility (or model factory) team chief.

When the model shop was first tasked with the bringing the idea to reality, the lead model maker, Joseph Fellenz, made many of the parts himself and helped solve the fabrication issue associated with bringing the prototype to a full-scale operational munition. Also on the project was Al Weimorts, the late creator of the BLU-82.

"Every technical glitch or roadblock we encountered was worked out by Al," Mr. Hammack said. "Our team was filled with engineers and other people with deeply important skill sets necessary to pull this off."

The reason this project remains so significant to the model shop workers is it was the first project they were not only asked to focus on solely proving theories but implementing them into reality.

"The shop was filled with such excitement and the morale immediately went up," Mr. Hammack said. "The enthusiasm went through the roof and we went on two 10-hour shifts a day until the project was completed."

The model shop crew was given carte blanch to get the prototype built and that included selecting the people they needed to get the project rolling.

"When this project came to us, everyone immediately came on board," Mr. Hammack said. "Many people willingly came out of retirement for the chance to work on MOAB because it was a chance to work on something different -- a cradle-to-grave project."

Unlike any project before or since, the model shop was solely responsible for coordinating the logistics on material acquirement and engineering the new munition. It was designed, built, tested and refined all in one location.

After each weapon was assembled, it was individually loaded onto a rented flatbed truck, secured and covered by tarps. The munition was then transported to the Naval Ammunition Depot at McAllister, Okla., where it was filled with explosive materials and painted and catalogued for the inventory.

"A little known fact is why the MOAB is green," said Mr. Hammack. "Since we were in such a rush to get the weapon into our inventory to send over to aid the war effort, resources were limited. The weekend the MOAB arrived, the only color available in the amount we needed was John Deere green."

The 16-hour expedition was a sensitive undertaking -- one which saw the drivers making the trip in one long haul stopping only for gas.

"Once I was stopped by a Texas State Trooper who was curious about our cargo and wanted a peek," he said. "Apparently he had stopped one of our drivers the week before and had some idea of what we were carrying."

Once the television networks broadcast the detonation, the American public became very supportive of the drivers' long hauls.

"We started getting thumbs up by passersby on the highway," Mr. Hammack said.

Five years later, the event is remembered more with a sense of awe and sense of unequaled accomplishment.

"At the time we didn't think too much of what we were doing other than our job and aiding in the war effort," he said. "After we delivered the weapons, it soon became clear the magnitude of our efforts -- what we had actually helped create."

Patriots come in all shapes and sizes. Their contributions; however, understated at the time, can send ripples felt throughout the world -- even if the contribution is the largest non-nuclear weapon in the Air Force inventory yet to be used.

"The most amazing thing about MOAB is it's the most powerful bomb ever built and has done its job -- deterring the enemy -- simply because they know about it," Mr. Hammack said.

The first MOAB was delivered into the operational theater for the war on terrorism April 1, 2003. To date, none have been used in combat.

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