Largest Conventional Bomb in Existence

Carolyn Lauer EE ‘03

It is big and destructive. To be exact, the Daisy Cutter bomb weighs in at 15,000 pounds and destroys anything in a 600-yard radius. First used during the Vietnam War, these huge bombs have since been employed in the Gulf War and most recently in Afghanistan. Although the “Daisy Cutter” bomb is not a nuclear weapon, its use in battle has caused controversy because of its terrifying and utterly destructive nature.


The BLU-82B or “Daisy Cutter” is the largest conventional bomb in existence and is 17 feet long and 5 feet in diameter, about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle but much heavier. It contains 12,600 pounds of GX slurry (ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, and polystyrene), and is so bulky that it cannot even be launched in a conventional method. To put that in context, the ammonium nitrate in just one Daisy Cutter bomb is about six times the amount used in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Although the blast from this bomb is extremely lethal, it still has less than a thousandth the destructive power of the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima.

Because of the cumbersome size of the Daisy Cutter and its deadly results, it must be uniquely deployed and detonated. It is launched on a delivery trolley and forced out the back of a C-130 cargo plane. The plane itself must be at least 6,000 feet off the ground to avoid the bomb’s massive shock wave. Once clear of the plane, the Daisy Cutter releases its own parachute. Attached to one end of the bomb is a three-foot long conical probe. When this probe touches the ground the bomb is detonated. Because the bomb is detonated before the majority of it hits the ground basically no crater results. However, the bomb still inflicts heavy damage, generating pressures in excess of 1,000 pounds per square inch near the point of impact, and the shock waves can be felt miles away.

A Daisy Cutter Bomb before it is loaded onto a C-130 cargo plane to be dropped.

These powerful effects have caused the Daisy Cutter to be mistakenly identified as a fuel air bomb. The Daisy Cutter is in fact, not a fuel air bomb. Fuel air bombs vaporize a fuel in the air and ignite it. This produces a fireball which rapidly expands making the blast much more extensive than conventional weapons. Although the Daisy Cutter could be used in similar situations as fuel air bombs, it is much too big to depend on the surrounding air and it utilizes its own oxidizer. In addition, the more conventional means of explosion utilized by the Daisy Cutter bomb makes is more reliable than fuel air bombs in significant wind or temperatures.


The Daisy Cutter bomb is extremely lethal, but was originally used in Vietnam only to clear the helicopter landing sites. In fact, it earned its nickname “The Daisy Cutter” because of the circular pattern of destruction that it left after detonation. Since then, it has been used multiple times, and it was reported that US aircraft dropped 11 Daisy Cutter bombs on Iraq during the Gulf War. Initially, they were dropped to test the ability of the bombs to clear mines, but no reliable assessment could be made about its effectiveness. The horrific blast was found to have a terrible impact on the survivors and as the war progressed, the Daisy Cutter was used less as a lethal and destructive weapon, and more as a psychological tool.

Once the United States fully realized the impact of the bombs on Iraqi troops, a new strategy was developed. A bomb would be deployed, and directly after the blast thousands of leaflets would be dropped over the Iraqi troops with a picture of the Daisy Cutter bomb and the words “Flee and Live, or Stay and Die!” Using experience from the Gulf War, the most recent operations in Afghanistan no longer employ the Daisy Cutter for the traditional purposes of clearing landing sites or destroying personnel, but rather as a psychological tool intended to demonstrate military superiority.

The Daisy Cutter Bomb is very large and the three men sitting atop it give some perspective.


It is easy to see why there would be objections to the use of the Daisy Cutter bomb when it is solely intended to intimidate the enemy with such destructive consequences. There was much concern that the Daisy Cutter bomb was being used against civilians in Afghanistan, but that is reportedly untrue as our only targets are strictly military. In defense of the Daisy Cutter bomb, Britain’s Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon reports that this bomb will be used when it is more suitable for hitting the target than smaller ones, and then its use is entirely justified. Also, because of the cumbersome launching of the Daisy Cutter and the specific conditions that must exist it is not possible to drop them on extremely volatile areas. The very large, slow-flying C-130 cargo planes are easy targets for enemy ground forces and therefore only when the airspace is well controlled is the Daisy Cutter even a viable weapon.

Since the Vietnam War, the Daisy Cutter bomb has been implemented for different purposes to suit varying strategic situations. Its extremely destructive nature and devastating power make it an easy target for controversy, but its most recent use as a psychological weapon is undeniably effective.

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