What is a BLU-129 Bomb and Why Does the Air Force Want More?

Col. Henry Rogers, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, perfoms pre-flight inspections on an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a sortie with the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Nov. 27, 2015. Rogers reached the 3,000-flying hour milestone and 1,000 combat-hour milestone while serving on his eighth combat deployment flying F-16s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys/Released)

What is a BLU-129/B Bomb and Why is the Air Force Ordering More?

The BLU-129/B is the Air Force’s Version of the Mark 82 500 lb General Purpose Bomb. The main difference between the two is that the BLU-129 has a carbon fiber composite case. Whereas the Mark 82 has a standard steel casing. A carbon fiber composite casing reduces the spread of fragmentation (blast radius) as much as one third. When a BLU-129 explodes, the carbon fiber body vaporizes. Thus making the BLU-129/B a Very Low Collateral Damage Weapon (VLCDW). A VLCDW greatly reduces damage to nearby friendly forces, cultural sites and to noncombatants. Due to this reduced blast radius and reduced risks to nearby noncombatants, the BLU-129 has been given the nickname of “The World’s Largest Sniper”.

When was the BLU-129/B first produced and at what Cost?

The BLU-129 first entered service in 2011. In 2011, there was an initial production of 800 bombs that was completed in 2015. No one is sure how many of those initial 800 bombs are currently available. The Air Force has used the BLU-129 for urban operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In the Air Force’s 2019 fiscal year budget, the service has asked for $8.12 million to buy 70 BLU-129/Bs. That comes to $116,000 per bomb, which is 40 times more than the 500 lb BLU-111/B high explosive bomb. The $116,000 price tag does not include the cost of the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) GPS – precision guidance tail kits or specialized fuzes. In comparison, the new 2,000 lb BLU-137/B Bunker Buster cost about $30,000 per bomb.