How does a fuel-air bomb work? How does it differ from a conventional bomb?

For centuries, humankind has waged war against each other in the search of victory and power. One of the most prominent factors in deciding the victor has been the war weapons, apart from the bravery and courage of the armed men. War weaponries, over time, have massively evolved. History tells us about people fighting with swords, bows, and arrows. However today, war weaponries have greatly advanced. 

There are many different kinds of artilleries in the modern world; all gravely dangerous. But we, here, are going to talk about the difference between fuel-air bombs and conventional bombs and how they differ in functionality. 

Fuel-air bomb

How does a fuel-air bomb differ from a conventional bomb? 

Conventional bombs consist of a metal case filled with explosives like TNT or RDX and a means of detonating the contents. It usually has a pointed tip and the construction of the tail helps the bomb in falling through the air towards its destination. Fuel-air bombs are free-falling bombs that are delivered by a plane and directed by a laser either on the ground or through another plane. 

By contrast, a fuel-air bomb is filled with a highly combustible fuel in either liquid or gel form. The fuel may be as exotic as an aluminum powder or as simple as petrol. The most current kind of fuel being used is the nanofuels. Fuel-air bombs are known to be the best type of thermobaric weapons. Thermobaric weapons are a type of explosives that suck in the oxygen from the surrounding space to create a high-heat explosion. 

Detonating this device is like lighting a match in a gas-filled room. A small charge in front of the bomb or warhead releases fuel, which mixes with the air to form a vapor cloud. Immediately thereafter, a detonator at the rear of the bomb triggers the midair explosion over the target as shown in the image above.

What is the impact of a fuel-air bomb? 

The United States used fuel-air bombs in the Vietnam War to obliterate the targeted jungle area and clear away mines and booby traps. When used against mass troops and enemy fortification, such bombs would simply liquidate them with both a fireball and concussion. They would burst eardrums, rupture internal organs and collapse the lungs of troops further away. It is said that the victims suffer for minutes before actually giving in to this brutal weapon. It is also the reason why the use of fuel-air bombs became the talk of many Human Rights activities. 

Witnessing this, scientists in the Soviet Union also started experimenting with the fuel-air bombs. It is stated that they used it against China in a later conflict and also in Afghanistan. Reports say that the Russian forces today own a diverse range of fuel-air bombs. 

Fuel-air bombs are known to cause worse impacts in places of confinement. Several reflective shock waves are created. As the exothermic reactions occur, the fireball can stay up to 50 minutes. Once the gases cool, further damage occurs. The air pressure may drop sharply which can result in partial vacuums. The victims, in these conditions, can suffer from suffocation as well. 

During the war in Chechnya in 1994-96, Russians had no idea how to force the Chechens out from their hideouts. Conventional bombs were not working, and this is when fuel-air bombs were used. 

It is not without justification that these explosive devices are often called a poor man’s atomic bombs, though the blast and the shock they produce is still only a fraction of that of a tactical nuclear weapon. However, they do have one advantage: there is no radiation in the fuel-air bomb.

Here’s a Discovery Channel video (from YouTube) of fuel-air explosives. Note that HBA is not affiliated with creators of this video.


Fuel-air bombs are the next generation of war weaponries. Countries are now constantly experimenting in search of something more dangerous and lethal than others. It has become a competition, today, of owning the most fatal war weapon to show might and power. Fuel-air bombs, with their severe impacts, have opened a new array of dangerous possibilities in the world of warfare. 

Additional reading

Fuel-air explosive (Wikipedia)

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