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The War Nerd March 20, 2003
 
MOAB: the Monster Truck of American Ordnance
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 2
 
We're getting into a very weird forgotten world here, the world of the Cold-War planners, guys who were paid to think about things so scary they didn't even WANT to tell their wives what they did at the office. Things like: could the US function after losing 30 million people in a nuclear exchange? How about 50 million? 70 million?

The big city-killer nukes those end-of-the-world guys dealt with are the ones everybody knows. But most of the military was thinking about tac nukes -- much smaller warheads that you could fit to short-range missiles or even artillery shells. These weren't big enough to destroy cities, but they were fine for taking out command bunkers or troop concentrations. We and the Russians had nukes for every party. Everybody knows about the neutron bomb, the one that "kills people and leaves buildings," although it's not really that simple -- but you have to remember we had hundreds of nuke models that were supposed to be used in ordinary little wars, not an all-out ICBM exchange between us and the Russians.

We had'em -- but we never used'em. Every time the US got into a "limited war," the generals would get itchy trigger fingers and start hinting that they'd like to use some of those little, safe'n'sane tac nukes. MacArthur just about mutinied when Truman told him to get his hot little hand out of the nukie jar. But Truman stayed and MacArthur was out. That set the pattern. In Vietnam, there were contingency plans for using nukes, but the war was a PR disaster already. The last thing we needed as more mushroom-cloud posters in every hippie's room. So we dropped everything from defoliant to leaflets to napalm -- everything except the nukes, our best and cheapest ordnance. Militarily it makes no sense at all. It's a cultural thing. Nukes mean the end of the world to most civilians, so no one's going to get permission to use them unless the Martians are eating the President's dog on the lawn of the White House.

And this is where the MOAB comes in. What with one thing and another -- the hippies, the whole Peace thing, all those Hiroshima books they made you read in high school -- the brass finally realized, around the time of the Gulf War, that nobody was going to let them use all those neat, portable tac nukes short of Soviet tanks entering suburban Seattle. And that left a big gap in the arsenal. We had bombs in every shoe-size up to 2,000 pounds. Above that point, the math said that you were better off going to a nice little nuke. But...we couldn't.

That's when the ordnance designers started going ultra-low-tech, copying the truck bombs crazy losers were setting off in places like Sri Lanka and Belfast. I can just imagine how ashamed these techies must've been when they got the design order: "We want you to make a bomb with ten tons of HE. It doesn't have to be aerodynamic cuz we're gonna slide it out the back of a C-130 on a pallet."

What fun is that, if you're a military engineer? It must've been a real comedown for those guys, but they did it. And then it turns out to be the sexiest weapon we've trotted out for the new Spring season. They gave it a cool four-letter name, MOAB, and passed out pics of it going off in the desert -- and it's suddenly the Britney Spears of bombs. Every kid's got a web-copied picture of it in his room, and nobody can wait to see the videos of one detonating on one of Saddam's hardened bunkers.

Well, like my Grandma used to say, "The last shall be first, and the first shall be last." But I don't think she was talking ordnance.

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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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