First Ever Operational Use of the GBU-43B MOAB Suggests Target Was of Strategic Value.
A U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Combat Talon II has dropped the first operational GBU-43B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst) on a cave complex target in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated members of the so-called Islamic State were using the cave complex. Both personnel and equipment were targeted in the strike that occurred at approximately 1800 hr.s local.
The massive, 11-ton, parachute deployed GBU-43B is the largest conventional air dropped weapon ever employed by the U.S. military. The “MOAB” produces shock, overpressure and blast effects equal to tactical nuclear weapons without residual radioactive fallout or the political ramifications associated with nuclear weapons.
The GBU-43B MOAB is deployed from a specially adapted MC-130 Combat Talon II using a system of rollers and a deployment sled. The bomb is attached to the deployment sled then pulled from the rear cargo ramp using a drogue parachute. Once pulled out the back cargo door of the MC-130 the sled falls away from the 30-foot long bomb. The bomb uses guidance wings and a system of stabilizers to maintain consistent ballistic flight trajectory and control its descent rate for more precise guidance. The MOAB uses a satellite guidance system along with internal gyros. GPS target coordinates are initially slaved from the launch aircraft then programmed into the weapon prior to release in close proximity to the target. Once released at medium to high altitude depending on target stand-off requirements the weapon uses its internal GPS for its terminal guidance to the target.
The GBU-43B is primarily intended to produce an “overpressure” or localized barometric shock wave effect to neutralize its target. The 9,500-kilogram bomb uses 18,700 pounds of H6 explosive, a combination of RDX explosive made of cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, conventional TNT explosive used in commercial dynamite and aluminum powder. The high-energy H6 explosive is made in Australia according to sources and is also used in concussive weapons such as mines and depth charges to produce a similar overpressure effect.
The shock wave generated by the massive release of energy from the explosion is transmitted through the air and into solid objects such as reinforced bunkers and cave complexes. This often results in their collapse. U.S. military officials also note a significant psychological impact to the employment of the GBU-43B MOAB because of its massive blast and the ability to produce a large mushroom-shaped cloud in certain atmospheric and terrain environments mimicking the appearance of a nuclear strike. There is no radioactive component to the GBU-43B.
According to several sources this was likely the only GBU-43B in the operational theater. Unless production has resumed, there are likely only 15 (14 now) operational GBU-43B MOAB weapons in U.S. inventory. The use of the weapon suggests that the target attacked was of strategic importance to the conflict in the region. Because of the special equipment and planning required to employ the GBU-43B this operation likely took a number of days minimally to plan prior to execution. No bomb damage assessment information has been released about the strike yet.
Italian Tornado combat planes took part in an anti-drug mission aimed at finding a marijuana plantation not far from their homebase.
About 250 kg of cannabis were seized in northern Italy after a plantation was discovered at Quinzano, near Brescia.
Interestingly, the operation was supported by the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS aircraft of the 6° Stormo (Wing) based at Ghedi, near Brescia. The ItAF jets were in fact tasked with reconnaissance runs aimed at discovering the farm and gathering imagery that was then used by the Carabinieri (Military Police) to arrest two people involved with the plantation.
It is not the first time Italian attack planes are requested by other national agencies to perform reconnaissance missions: for instance, in the aftermath of the 6.0 earthquake that hit central Italy on Aug. 24 causing about 300 deaths, ItAF Tornados supported the relief operations collecting imagery used to map the damages to Amatrice and the nearby villages.
Reccelite imagery of Amatrice in the aftermath of the earthquake. Source: ItAF
The Tornados have already been involved in sort-of anti-drug missions abroad: from November 2008 to December 2009, the Italian jets were deployed to Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, from where they supported ISAF with reconnaissance missions: many of these were tasked with the aim of discovering opium poppy farms and depots across a country that produces more than 90% of heroin worldwide.
In “recce” role at home and in theater, the Italian aircraft carry a Rafael Reccelite reconnaissance pod: the Reccelite is a Day/Night electro-optical pod able to provide real-time imagery collection. It is made of a stabilized turret, solid-state on board recorder that provides image collections in all directions, from high, medium and low altitudes.
The Reccelite reconnaissance pod is used to broadcast live video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical receivers in a range of about 100 miles.
The Tornados have used the pod in combat not only in Afghanistan, but also in Libya and more recently in Kuwait, where the aircraft were deployed to support, with ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions, the air war against ISIS.
Training missions in reconnaissance role see the aircraft overflying a series of targets taking photographs that are then analysed by image interpreters: during the above mentioned mission, one of the targets was a real one, a suspected cannabis farm.
Bad OPSEC (Operations Security) exposed by Air War on ISIS?
“Loose Tweets Destroy Fleets” is the slogan (based on the U.S. Navy’s WWII slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships”) that the U.S. Air Force Central Command used a couple of weeks ago for an article aimed at raising airmen awareness about the risk of sharing sensitive information on social media.
Indeed, the AFCENT article speaks directly to the threat posed by Islamic State supporters who, according to Stripes, on at least two occasions have acquired and posted online personal data of military personnel, urging sympathizers, “lone wolves,” to attack Americans in the States and overseas in retaliation for the air strikes.
The article highlights the importance of proper OPSEC to keep sensitive information away from the enemy and to prevent leakage of information that could put missions, resources and members at risk, “and be detrimental to national strategic and foreign policies.”
Interestingly, the article only focuses on the smart use of social media. Ok, however, there are other possible OPSEC violations that the U.S. Air Force (as well as many other air arms currently supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq and Syria, or Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan) should be concerned of.
USAF C-146A Wolfhound of the 524th Special Operations Squadron
During the last few months many readers have sent us screenshots they took on FR24.com or PF.net (that only collect ADS-B broadcast by aircraft in the clear) showing military planes belonging to different air forces over Iraq or Afghanistan: mainly tankers and some special operations planes.
We have informed the U.S. Air Force and other air forces that their planes could be tracked online, live, several times, but our Tweets (and those of our Tweeps who retweeted us) or emails have not had any effect as little has changed. Maybe they don’t consider their tankers’ racetrack position or the area of operations of an MC-12 ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft a sensitive information…
Did you know RAF delivered its five Reaper UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) as if they were model kits?
The Royal Air Force has just deployed five more MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft that have joined the five Reapers already there and support ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) operations in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the drones are delivered as model kits and re-assembled at Kandahar airfield as the following images, released by the UK MoD.
Along with the images of the British have also released some figures about the air strikes against Taliban conducted by the RAF unmanned aircraft in theater with LGBs (Laser-Guided Bombs) and Hellfire missiles:
“In over 54,000 hours of operations using Reaper in Afghanistan, only 459 weapons have been fired, which is less than one weapon for every 120 hours of flying.”
These could be the latest version of the rarely seen before Gorgon Stare (formerly known as the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System – WAAS), a pod-based sensor package used to track people, vehicles, and objects in areas of +10 square kilometers.
The ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) pod is integrated in a networked imagery distribution system to provide hi-resolution, real-time full motion video of activities of interest.
Usually, a Gorgon Stare system is made of two pods, one carrying networking and communications equipment, the other with Visible/IR Camera Arrays and Image Processing module: interestingly, the MQ-9 shown in the picture carries two seemingly identical pods (with EO/IR turrets).