Your Guide to All the Devastating Weapons You Hear About in the News

Barrel Bombs

These are improvised, unguided bombs that are made from a large metal barrel filled with up to 1,000 kg of explosives, shrapnel, oil, chemicals, and other nasty things. They are usually dropped from a helicopter or airplane, earning them the nickname of “flying IEDs” (improvised explosive devices).

Barrel bombs are incredibly inaccurate and often dropped in populated civilian areas, devastating everything around them. They tend to see use by governments of unstable nations in order to fight insurgencies because they’re cheap to make—about $200 to $300 per bomb—and utilize the government’s air advantage. They are illegal under international conventions.

They were first used by the Israeli military in the late 1940s, then by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Since then they’ve seen action in Sri Lanka, Iraq, Croatia, Sudan, and currently during the ongoing Syrian Civil War.


Known as the “Mother of All Bombs,” MOAB actually stands for the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb. It’s a thermobaric, large-yield explosive weapon that is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. military’s arsenal. It’s a 30-foot-long bomb that has a blast yield equivalent to 11 tons of TNT. Seriously, this thing is beyond deadly.

The bomb is carried by C-130 Hercules gunships, and was designed to be similar to the Daisy Cutter bombs used in the Vietnam and Iraq wars for clearing mines and heavily wooded areas. It has since been considered for use as an anti-personnel weapon. Until recently, the MOAB had never seen combat use. But recent reports indicate the United States has dropped it on suspected ISIS targets in Afghanistan. Not to be outdone, Russia has a similar weapon known as the “Father of All Bombs,” which is estimated to be about four times as powerful.

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