During the Vietnam War, conventional airstrikes proved insufficient for creating landing zones within the triple-canopy jungles of Southeast Asia. The BLU-82/B Daisy Cutter solved the problem. US Air Force photo by Capt. Patrick Nichols.
On March 23, 1970, a United States Air Force C-130 was dispatched over the jungles of Laos carrying an unusual payload. Securely fastened to a pallet inside the aircraft’s cargo compartment was an enormous, 15,000-pound bomb. What made the bomb — called the BLU-82/B, or “Daisy Cutter” — unusual was that it was specially designed to flatten areas of dense vegetation. For years, the US military had struggled to devise a reliable method for creating instant helicopter landing zones within the triple-canopy jungles that covered Southeast Asia. The Daisy Cutter was the solution to that problem.
Flying over Laos, the C-130 descended to 6,000 feet, the lowest altitude permitted by the mission. Then the loadmaster pulled the emergency extraction handle, sending the pallet down the ramp off the aircraft with the Daisy Cutter. As the cargo went airborne, the static lines tethering it to the C-130 drew taut, jettisoning the bomb from the pallet and deploying its parachute.
An MC-130E from the 711th Special Operations Squadron, 919th Special Operations Wing, Duke Field, Fla., drops the last operational 15,000-pound BLU-82 bomb at the Utah Test and Training Range on July 15, 2008. US Air Force photo by Capt. Patrick Nichols.
A Daisy Cutter sort of looks like a giant soda can. Its warhead contains 12,600 pounds of explosive filler called DBA-22M. The warheads are optimized for land clearance. Upon detonation, they release shockwaves that are powerful enough to obliterate trees as tall as 150 feet.
The Daisy Cutter dropped over Laos floated earthward for approximately 20 seconds until detonating just feet above the ground (as it was designed to do, in order to avoid creating a crater). In a flash, all of the vegetation within a 260-foot diameter of the explosion vanished, leaving a gaping hole in the jungle that was big enough for the troop transport helicopter tailing the C-130 to safely touch down and deposit its human cargo. It was the first time a Daisy Cutter was ever successfully used in a combat operation.
Over the next two years, the Air Force used more than 100 Daisy Cutters to create jungle landing zones throughout Southeast Asia. On several occasions, American and South Vietnamese aircrews even used the bombs as anti-personnel weapons. In 1975, for example, approximately 250 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed by a Daisy Cutter that struck their position as they were marching toward Saigon.
The BLU-82/B “Daisy Cutter” on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the US Air Force. US Air Force photo.
The Daisy Cutter was retired immediately following the Vietnam War. However, in the mid-1980s, the Air Force Special Operations Command decided to reincorporate the bomb into its arsenal. During Operation Desert Storm, a total of 11 Daisy Cutters were dropped on Kuwaiti soil in an effort to demoralize the Iraqi Army. To an untrained eye, the mushroom cloud produced by a BLU-82/B looks similar to that of a nuclear bomb, making it an ideal tool for psychological warfare. As Ret. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bill Walter, a former AC-130 gunner and a legend within the US special operations community, puts it: “Its bark was bigger than its bite.”
In 2001, during the invasion of Afghanistan, the US military used Daisy Cutters to strike al Qaeda targets hidden within the Tora Bora cave complex. The US military’s inventory of Daisy Cutters was fully depleted by 2008. But an even bigger and better bomb has since taken its place: the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), aka the “Mother of All Bombs.” To date, a total of 17 MOABs have been manufactured for the US military and so far only one of them has been used. In 2017, the Air Force detonated a MOAB in Afghanistan. The bomb hit an Islamic State tunnel complex located along the Pakistan border, killing more than 90 militants, according to the Air Force.
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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