March 13, 2003
WASHINGTON -- In a flashy debut for its biggest non-nuclear bomb, the Air Force on Tuesday dropped a 21,000-pound behemoth onto a test range at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base, hoping the test would rattle nerves in Iraq as well.
The Air Force bomb test was declared a success, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined to say whether the bomb would be used in a war against Iraq.
It is officially designated the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, although it has come to be called unofficially the Mother of All Bombs, a rough allusion to Saddam Hussein's claim before the 1991 Gulf War that that conflict would be the "mother of all battles."
"Anything we have in the arsenal, anything that's in almost any stage of development, could be used," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Air Force has not said how such a bomb might be used in combat. John Pike, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, said Tuesday it might be useful against Iraqi Republic Guard formations or even targets around Baghdad such as one of Saddam's palaces.
Rumsfeld indicated that the big bomb, which was dropped out the back of a C-130 transport plane, was as much a psychological tool as any weapon.
"The goal is to not have a war," he said. "The goal is to have the pressure be so great that Saddam Hussein cooperates. Short of that . . . 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 and there's an enormous incentive for Saddam Hussein to leave and spare the world a conflict."
The bomb exploded shortly after 2 p.m. and was guided to its target by satellite signals, Eglin officials said.
MOAB is similar to but 40 percent heavier than the Air Force's next largest bomb, the 15,000-pound BLU-82, or "daisy cutter." In the Persian Gulf War, it was used to clear minefields.
A Pentagon official who reviewed a videotape of the test said the bomb created a tall cloud of debris that billowed into the sky but did not resemble the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast. The Air Force videotape was to be released later.
Lt. Karen Roganov, a public affairs officer, saw the dust cloud from atop the base headquarters building 30 miles away from the test range.
"It looked like a white mushroom cloud," Roganov said. "It was kind of billowy like cotton or clouds. It didn't look like an A-bomb where it expands and contracts quickly. It was a lingering mushroom cloud."
She said she saw the blast several seconds before hearing a "small boom."
The blast could be heard but not seen in Navarre on the southwestern edge of Eglin, which is two-thirds the size of Rhode Island and sprawls across 724 square miles of the Florida Panhandle.
"It was just a boom. It shook the building," said Lynn Jones, a Santa Rosa County sheriff's public service technician at the Navarre substation. "I wasn't expecting it. It kind of scared me at first."
In other military developments:
A potential crisis was averted Tuesday when American, Iraqi and United Nations officials peacefully and quickly settled a mixup that began when two U-2 spyplanes, piloted by Americans, began flying surveillance missions for U.N. inspectors over Iraq.
In accordance with agreements between the U.N. inspectors and Baghdad, advance notice of a surveillance mission had been given to the Iraqis, but up to this time such missions have included only one plane. When a second U-2 entered Iraqi airspace at 10 a.m., 20 minutes after the first, Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, called a senior U.N. inspector in Baghdad to "seek clarification," according to Hiro Ueki, spokesman in Baghdad for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.
Meanwhile, Iraq sent two fighter planes into the air to follow the second U-2.
The mission was aborted and both planes were ordered back to base.
At a joint news conference with Rumsfeld, Myers said the number of American forces now arrayed against Iraq exceeded 225,000 and more were en route.