WASHINGTON -- Use of the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal -- the 15,000-pound "BLU-82" -- in recent allied air attacks on Iraq is part of an intensified effort to shake enemy troop morale before the expected allied ground offensive, officials said yesterday.
Warplanes began dropping the massive bomb, also known as a "daisy cutter," last week and are expected to continue during the ongoing phase of softening up Iraqi troops for the anticipated allied ground assault.
The weapon is detonated a few feet above the ground and flattens everything in its large blast radius. The concussion at point of detonation is equivalent to that of a small nuclear weapon, although the device does not use or release any radiation, according to published descriptions of the bomb.
Its explosive yield varies from 12,600 pounds to 15,000 pounds, according to Air Force documents. The largest munitions used in the conflict so far have been 2,000-pound bombs dropped from aircraft and 1,900-pound shells fired from 16-inch guns aboard U.S. battleships.
The bomb is dropped from transport planes because it cannot be fitted under any U.S. fighter or tactical bomber, Air Force officials said. The bombs are loaded on wheeled pallets and shoved out the rear cargo hatch of a C-130 transport, they said.
The BLU-82, also known as Big Blue 82, was last used in Vietnam to clear helicopter landing zones in dense jungle foliage. The bomb, detonated three to six feet above the ground to maximize the shock wave, clears an area with a diameter of 300 to 600 yards.
Ground commanders in Vietnam said they could hear the big bombs' blast from more than 10 miles.
In open desert, the ear-shattering shock waves would "ripple off into infinity," an Air Force official said yesterday.
"You want to achieve the full shock value. You want people to understand the size of the weapon," he said.