With the current global climate, the chance of a major conflict occurring is a very real possibility.
War is frightening on its own but it is the weapons of war that make it absolutely terrifying. Since the first disease-infected animal was thrown into a well to poison its drinking water, to the present, humanity’s capacity to wage war has expanded exponentially and so has its skill at creating weapons of war. Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are the most feared in man’s arsenal of destruction, mainly due to the incredible amount of carnage a single weapon can cause. WMDs are generally divided into four classes; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear, however, there is one so-called “conventional” weapon that should certainly be added to the list of WMDs.
The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki introduced the world to the most frightening and destructive weapon ever known but now there is a contender for that title and its already being used in combat! They are called thermobaric weapons or fuel-air explosive munitions. The thermobaric weapon, “thermo” meaning heat and “baric” meaning pressure, combines high-explosives with the hellish power of a low-yield nuclear weapon, without the radiation, and the horrific effects of a chemical weapon, without the backlash from the international community, into one nightmarish instrument of mass slaughter.
The first thermobaric devices developed during the Vietnam War were used for deforestation of heavily wooded areas. Eventually, its destructive potential became realized as an offensive weapon of mass destruction. The “daisy cutters” as they were called, saw service as a weapon to kill enemies who were entrenched beyond the reach of conventional bombs.
This later evolved into the development of devices created specifically to destroy heavily fortified structures as well as kill personnel. One such device is the United States-built M.O.A.B. or Massive Ordinance Air Blast munition. Fielded on 2003, The “Mother of all Bombs” as it is called, is considered a high-yield “conventional” weapon but there is nothing conventional about it.
The M.O.A.B. contains a fuel that utilizes the surrounding atmosphere to produce explosions comparable to low-yield nuclear detonations. In theory, there is no upper limit to the explosive energy these devices can release however, there is an upper practical limit to the size that such a weapon can be built, with the M.O.A.B. having a yield equivalent to 49 tons of TNT. What makes the M.O.A.B. and similar weapons so frightening is the numerous and terrible ways they maim and kill.
According to Wikipedia, a 2001 report from Human Rights Watch quotes a study from the US Defense Intelligence Agency that said, “The [blast] kill mechanism against living targets is unique–and unpleasant…. What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs…. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common [F]uel [A]ir [E]xplosive fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents.”
Another study conducted by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency states, “the effect of an FAE explosion within confined spaces is immense. Those near the ignition point are obliterated. Those at the fringe are likely to suffer many internal, and thus invisible injuries, including burst eardrums and crushed inner ear organs, severe concussions, ruptured lungs and internal organs, and possibly blindness.” Another Defense Intelligence Agency document speculates that because the “shock and pressure waves cause minimal damage to brain tissue…it is possible that victims of FAEs are not rendered unconscious by the blast, but instead suffer for several seconds or minutes while they suffocate.” (emphasis added)
Another fearful thing about thermobaric weapons is their portability. The United States and Russia have deployed portable thermobaric weapons in various theaters of combat against enemy troops. With chemical and biological weapons banned and nations’ reluctance to use nuclear weapons, this makes the thermobaric munition the most terrifying weapon a soldier might face on the battlefield.