The powerful “Mother of All Bombs” U.S. forces dropped Thursday on an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan was tested eight years ago for blast characterization at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in northeastern Kern County.
A spokeswoman for the 1.1 million-acre weapons development and testing facility near Ridgecrest verified Thursday that the test took place in 2009 at Cactus Flats Ordnance Test Range, a remote area, about 15 square miles in size, where the military tests warhead function and a number of other characteristics of explosives.
Calling the massive ordnance air blast weapon, or MOAB, the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military, Pentagon officials said Thursday they had no early estimate of deaths or damage caused by the attack, which President Donald Trump called a “very, very successful mission.”
According to the Associated Press, the bomb was dropped at 7:32 p.m. local time Thursday on a tunnel complex in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, where the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group has been operating. The target was close to the Pakistani border.
The U.S. estimates 600 to 800 IS fighters are present in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar, the AP reported. The U.S. has concentrated heavily on combating them while also supporting Afghan forces battling the Taliban. Just last week a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Md., was killed in action in Nangarhar.
The MOAB is a custom-made Air Force weapon that has been in the arsenal for more than a decade but never used on the battlefield, although it was available throughout the Iraq war, the AP said. It is designed to hit softer targets such as surface facilities, tunnel entrances and troop concentrations. It is pushed out the rear of the launching aircraft, guided to its target by GPS and slowed by a parachute.
Other than verifying the weapon was tested at China Lake, a spokeswoman for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division said she could not immediately provide additional information about the test.
However, according to a “distribution statement” approved for public release in 2014, the base boasts unique features that allow for “blast and fragment lethality testing for weapons with large explosive capabilities.” It also helped explain why an Air Force weapon was tested at a Navy installation.
Cactus Flats is one of only a few areas in the country that is suitable for static testing large ordnance generating massive blasts, according to the statement.
The test facility supports fast response threat tests for all branches of the U.S. military, as well as for defense contractors and foreign allies. It has supported testing for universities, Caltrans, the U.S. Marshall’s Service, the Department of Energy and many other government and private industry agencies, the statement said. Activities include battle damage assessment; mitigating and defeating IEDs; and countering threats to bridges, buildings, ordnance storage areas, military vehicles and aircraft.