GBU-43/B "Mother Of All Bombs"
MOAB - Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb
MOAB and the Laws Of Armed Conflict (LOAC)
The Judge Advocate General of the Air Force ensures that all weapons being acquired or modified by the Air Force are reviewed for legality under international law prior to their use in a conflict. AFI 51-402 defines "weapons" as devices designed to kill, injure, or disable people, or to damage or destroy property. Based upon this definition, the MOAB is a weapon and requires a legal review. This review's conclusions are based on the facts contained herein. Any weapon that varies from the technical descriptions included in this review must be the subject of a separate legal review.
There is no agreed definition of unnecessary suffering. Whether a weapon causes unnecessary suffering turns on whether the injury, including death, to combatants is disproportionate to the military advantage gained by use of the weapon. The effect of a weapon must be weighed in light of levels of injury to enemy combatants by comparable, lawful weapons in use on the modern battlefield. The critical factor is whether the suffering is needless or disproportionate to the military advantage secured by the weapon, not the degree of suffering itself.
The MOAB weapon kills by way of blast or fragmentation. Blast and fragmentation are historic and common anti-personnel effects in lawful military weapons. There are no components that would cause unnecessary suffering. The explosive ingredient H6 is a widely-used explosive that is typical for weapons of this type. The components RDX and TNT do have some potential toxic effects from long-term exposure, but these are limited and within US government tolerance levels. The potential psychological effect of the weapon does not constitute suffering. The intent is to demoralize or frighten the enemy by impressing them with the large footprint, resulting cloud, and tremendous noise of the explosion.
A fundamental principle of the LOAC is that combatants must be distinguished from noncombatants and civilians. Only combatants, other persons posing a threat to the force, and military objectives can be legitimately targeted. Indiscriminate, or "blind," weapons are prohibited. Indiscriminate weapons are those that are as likely to hit civilians and non-combatants as well as combatants. If noncombatants are in the area or intermingled with combatants, normal LOAC analysis will be followed to ensure that collateral damage and injuries are limited. Although the MOAB weapon leaves a large footprint, it is discriminate and requires a deliberate launching towards the target. The MOAB weapon does have grid fins that allow for a maximum of a one mile radius of correction control in the event of delivery errors. Grid fins were chosen over solid fins because they require less torque to maneuver the weapon. The grid fins deflect as directed by the guidance algorithms in the weapon to keep it on course to the target coordinates. The guidance system ensures that the weapon will hit (within acceptable variables) the target that it is intended to hit. In the weapon test conducted at Eglin, the guidance system test was successful.
LOAC issues related to lawful targeting should be addressed at the time of employment, as determined by the on scene commander under the facts and circumstances reasonably known at the time, including special collateral damage considerations when attacking chemical or biological targets. Such issues are not determinative of the lawfulness of the weapon for the purpose of this analysis. The commander authorizing the weapon's use must consider its characteristics in order to ensure consistency with mission rules of engagement and law of war proscriptions on directing attacks at civilians not taking an active part in hostilities, or who otherwise do not pose a threat to US forces. Targeting with the MOAB will be done in accordance with these issues to ensure ROE and law of war compliance.
There are no LOAC principles or treaties that prohibit use of the MOAB weapon. The MOAB weapon is consistent with the international legal obligations of the United States, including the LOAC. The 21 March 2003 Air Force legal review was coordinated with the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Offices of the Judge Advocate Generals of the Army and the Navy, and the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Legal Counsel who concured with its analysis and conclusion.
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