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The Dallas Morning News November 7, 2001

U.S. begins using 15,000-pound 'Daisy Cutter' bombs

By Richard Whittle

WASHINGTON _ The U.S. military has begun using one of its most powerful bombs against Taliban forces in Afghanistan _ a 15,000-pound behemoth so big that it can't be dropped. It has to be shoved out the rear of a cargo plane.

"There were two of these weapons used ... within the last week," said Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "They make a heck of a bang when they go off, and the intent is to kill people." Known as the "Daisy Cutter" because it was first used during the Vietnam War to clear the jungle so helicopters could land, the BLU-82 is also called "Big Blue."

The weapon consists of a septic tank-sized container made of -inch steel that holds 12,600 pounds of aluminum powder in a blasting slurry. A 38-inch probe extending from the nose of the bomb hits the ground first, detonating the weapon above ground level.

The bomb is so bulky that it can't be hung from a warplane's wings. Instead it is loaded onto a pallet and put on a MC-130 Combat Talon special operations transport, then pushed out the back when the plane flies over the target.

"The designers optimized this bomb to clear vegetation while creating little or no crater, and it cleared landing zones about 260 feet in diameter _ just right for helicopter operations," notes an article on the U.S. Air Force Museum's website (www.wpafb.af.mil/museum).

But the Daisy Cutter is also deadly. The explosion of its aluminum powder slurry creates a blast wave of 1,000 pounds per square inch that can kill within 200 feet of the impact point _ roughly three acres. Those within 500 feet can suffer ruptured lungs or broken eardrums.

Pentagon officials provided no details on where the Daisy Cutters were used in Afghanistan, but Gen. Pace said the weapon "would be extremely useful against troops that are in light defensive positions." U.S. planes have been attacking Taliban front lines near Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul in recent days.

Contrary to some published reports, the BLU-82 is not a "fuel air explosive," a type of weapon that disperses an aerosol cloud of fuel and ignites a blast that can cause overpressure of 4,000 pounds per square inch. Fuel air munitions are made in sizes from 500 to 2,000 pounds.

"A fuel air munition basically puts out an aerosol fuel that then is ignited, burning the oxygen in the atmosphere, whereas a BLU-82 is basically just a big barrel of blasting slurry," explained John Pike, director of the defense policy group GlobalSecurity.org.

"Since both of them are blast munitions, they have similar effects and are used against similar types of targets," Pike added. "But the way in which the explosion is generated is quite different. They are frequently confused but totally unrelated."

The Daisy Cutter is far more reliable, he said, because a fuel air explosive's aerosol can be dispersed by wind, diminishing the effect of the blast.

The BLU-82 was first used in Vietnam during 1970, but 11 of the bombs were dropped on Iraqi troops during the 1991 Gulf War. The fury of the blast, and the fact that troops in trenches are not safe from it, can have a powerfully demoralizing effect.

"The blast overpressure from any bomb is going to kill people if it's close enough," Pike said. "But the BLU-82 has about 10 times as much explosive power in it as a 2,000-pound bomb. "It'll put the fear of the Lord into anybody it doesn't kill."


Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service