-118 is a thermobaric bomb
fielded officially for the first time by the USAF
in the recent Iraq war; it is so new that it does not yet have a nickname. 'Thermobaric
' is derived for the Greek words for 'heat' and 'pressure', and the BLU-118 is very similar to a fuel-air explosive
device, designed to destroy personnel who are sheltered in locations which conventional bombs cannot reach. It is in contrast to traditional anti-bunker
bombs such as the BLU-109
, which are designed to simply crash through and obliterate the target with high explosives. The BLU-118/B was developed in order to target the Taliban's mountain caverns in Afghanistan, although it was used in the Iraq conflict against bunker complexes, and there is a risk that the weapon's use against smaller targets might cause its 'shock and awe
' value to dissolve away, reducing its impact and encouraging profligacy.
After being dropped, typically by an F-15E, the laser-guided BLU-118 is steered into the door or entryway of the target. After penetration it releases a cloud composed of aluminium powder and fuel, which is ignited by a timed explosive. Powder of any sort - flour, paint, Angel Delight - is an dangerous explosive risk, and is a constant source of problems for haulage firms and cargo carriers.
The composition of the thermobaric explosive produces an extremely hot detonation followed by a shock wave, which creates a partial vacuum. The end result is that personnel are burned, suffocated, burst, and smothered by collapsing rubble. Even if they survive the blast, they are invariably trapped inside their bunkers.
As with the B-52 bomber and the nuclear bomb, the BLU-118/B (the name a reference to the original Vietnam-era BLU-118, a 500kg napalm bomb which had a similar role) is both a formidable weapon and a potent, controversial symbol.