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FIRE! The 5 Deadliest Weapons of The U.S. Air Force

5 Deadliest Weapons of the U.S. Air Force
Image: Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force gets a vote in this exercise to see who has the deadliest conventional (non-nuclear) weapons in the U.S. military. The Air Force does not disappoint. First up is the “Mother of All Bombs.” Then the latest and greatest from the B-52, the B-2, the F-35, and the F-22.

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The Mother of All Bombs

The Mother of All Bombs is a nickname for the GBU-43/B MOAB – or the Massive Ordnance Air Blast. This thing weighs almost 22,000 pounds and yields 11-tons of TNT. This is an airburst bomb not a penetrator, but it is intended to blast the heck out of anyone or anything or that is hiding in caves and canyons.

The Air Force first tested it in 2003 and it was first used in 2017 against an ISIS-K cave complex in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. The Pentagon did not provide details on the strike, but President Trump called it a very successful mission. The Afghan Army later said that it killed 94 terrorists.


GBU-43/B on display at the Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Note the grid fins.

There are believed to be about 15 MOABs in the U.S. arsenal. It is carried by an MC-130E Combat Talon.

The B-52 Stratofortress

Can you believe that the B-52 is still flying and dropping bombs?

It’s first flight was in 1952 and it was introduced in 1955. It can carry everything from nuclear to conventional bombs, cruise missiles, and hypersonic missiles. It mainly carries guided bombs such as the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs).

The airplane has been upgraded numerous times and it is now the B-52H variant.


B-52 bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


A B-52 Stratofortress aircraft flies overhead near the Air Force Flight Test Center. The Stratofortress is carrying AGM-86 air-launched cruise missiles.


A B-52H Stratofortress is prepared for fight at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Oct. 25, 2021. The last B-52H built was delivered in Oct. 1962. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Wright)

Nicknamed the “BUFF” (for big-ugly fat fellow), the B-52H weighs almost 500,000 pounds with fuel and ordnance. A total of 744 were built and it is the longest-serving combat aircraft in the world.

B-2 Stealth Bomber

Northrop Grumman claims it built all the components for the B-2 from scratch.

In most U.S. conflicts, the B-2 goes in first. It can fly from the United States and get re-fueled, drop its bombs on other continents, and then return home. That means it can fly 10,000 nautical miles on one re-fueling. It’s also stealthy.

B-2 Bomber

Image of B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

B-2 Spirit

B-2 Spirit. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman.

The B-2 holds the record for the longest air combat mission in history. It did an early Afghanistan mission in 2001 that lasted 44 hours.

Its wingspan is half the length of a football field. It has a ceiling of more than 50,000 feet and a payload of 20 tons.

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter

The F-35 is a fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter plane. It also has variations for the Marine Corps and Navy. That U.S. military plans to order over 1,700 of them.

The F-35 can carry 18,000 pounds of ordnance.

It can go MACH 1.6 with its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine.

It has advanced electronic warfare capabilities to jam enemy radar and disrupt enemy fighter attacks or missile defenses.


An F-35 Lightning II flies at the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, Nov. 11, 2022. The NAS Pensacola Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show is one of Pensacola’s largest events, attracting 150,000-180,000 spectators during the two-day event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Trenten Walters)

F-35B Royal Navy

Image Credit: Royal Navy.

The F-35 can carry JDAMs, the joint stand-off weapon, Paveway IV guided bombs, and various air-to-air, air-to-ground missiles, and even Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

The F-22 Raptor

The F-22 has been profiled in 1945 here, but allow me to take a deeper dive into the weapons it has. The F-22 can carry two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) internally. It also boasts two Sidewinders, six medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs), and a 20mm Gatling gun. Six launchers mounted in the main weapon bays carry and launch the AMRAAMs.

The F-22 can change weapons distribution depending on whether it is in air-to-ground mode or air-to-air mode. This is all carried inside the airplane in internal bays for better stealth radar evasion.

F-22 Raptor

F-22 Raptor. Image Credit: U.S. Air Force Social Media.


F-22 Hawaiian Raptor flies over Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 5, 2019.

Missiles are launched out of the bay at 25 feet per second, with a force of 40Gs. The entire launch sequence lasts seconds.

Who’s the winner? I’ll take the B-52. No other airplane has been around longer. It has the biggest payload and has proved itself in almost every war the United States has fought in since its inception.

19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.