After the United States deployed a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast — more commonly known as the "mother of all bombs" — in the eastern province of Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on Thursday, some intrigued by the name might be curious if there is a "father of all bombs." It turns out that there is one indeed.
The Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power, which is better known as the "father of all bombs," was developed by Russia in 2007, four years after the mother of all bombs was created in the United States.
The bomb is supposedly four times more potent than the GBU-43/B, at least according to the Russian state news agency Channel One cited in a Guardian report. As a result, it would be the most powerful non-nuclear weapon on earth. The claim, however, is contested by American defense analysts.
Wired reported inconsistencies highlighted by defense analysts who doubt the purported omnipotence of the father of all bombs by claiming the bomb cannot be deployed from a Tu-160 long-range bomber, contrary to what Russia claimed upon its initial test. This means, according to these analysts, the bomb's efficiency is questionable and "cannot be used against defended targets."
Before one can even poke a hole in Russia's declaration, it's worthwhile to understand what exactly thermobaric means here.
A thermobaric weapon is an incredibly sophisticated weapon that uses natural components of our surroundings to its advantage. This means that Russia's father of all bombs is a fuel-air bomb that uses oxygen to create an extremely intense explosion, resulting in a powerful blast wave. The bomb, weighing some 16,000 pounds, detonates in mid-air and generates a supersonic shock-wave in the impacted environment.
When it comes to non-nuclear weapons, thermobaric weapons are considered some of the most notoriously destructive. Historically, both British and American military forces have deployed them in the form of Hellfire missiles and a laser guided bomb. According to a delegation of human rights investigators from the United Nations, the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad has also used thermobaric bombs in parts of the country to target rebel fighters.
Research on the controversial bomb has been going on for well over a decade now. In 2000, a Human Rights Watch quoted the American Defense Intelligence Agency about how exactly a thermobaric bomb impacts its human target. According to the report, victims "will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel."
The blast radius of the father of all bombs is around 300 meters while it yields a blast of 44 tons of TNT, according to Reuters. The specifics that have been declared by Russia in its test about its father of all bombs have not been verified so far. Which is a relief — for now. Considering the potential magnitude of such a non-nuclear weapon, hopefully the specifics will never be confirmed.