‘Cookie Bomb’: How US Air Force Stunned The World By Delivering Humanitarian Aid In Kosovo Through Fighter Jets

In a remarkable feat, Eglin Air Force Base orchestrated the development of the M129 E3 ‘Cookie Bomb’ in only four days to provide essential assistance during the 1999 Kosovo conflict.

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A recent article published on the Eglin Air Force Base website details the creation of the M129 E3 “Cookie Bomb,” which was essentially a leaflet bomb adapted to carry Humanitarian Daily Rations for refugees in Kosovo. 

Eglin Air Force Base, located in Florida, emerged as a pivotal player in delivering humanitarian assistance during the 1999 Kosovo conflict. The urgency stemmed from the necessity of distributing Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDRs) to displaced individuals scattered across the region.  

Conventional cargo aircraft were deemed unsuitable due to adverse weather conditions and the looming threat of surface-to-air missiles. 

In response, Eglin personnel embarked on modifying the Enhanced GBU-15, conducting tests on the ALE-50 Towed Decoy, and ultimately crafting what humorously came to be known as the “Cookie Bomb” by local media. 

Yancy Mailes from the Air Force Materiel Command History Office recounted in Eglin’s Cookie Bomb article that these efforts proved instrumental to the war campaign. 

According to Mailes, the creation of the Cookie Bomb not only showcased the agility of the Air Force Materiel Command’s Plan 70, designed for surge operations for AFMC depots, but also underscored the innovative spirit of Airmen. 

During the initial stages of Operation Allied Force, NATO airstrikes failed to prompt Yugoslavia into negotiations. Compounded by low cloud cover obstructing laser-guided weapons and the loss of an F-117 aircraft, frustrations mounted.

As Kosovar refugees sought refuge in neighboring nations to escape violence, many found themselves trapped, unable to return home or find safety. Recognizing the imperative to protect and support these refugees, coalition leaders faced a dilemma. 

With the persistent threat of surface-to-air missiles, conducting traditional humanitarian missions using slow and vulnerable cargo aircraft was not feasible. Thus, NATO sought alternative methods for aid delivery akin to the historic Berlin Airlift. 

Eglin Air Force Base’s swift adaptation and ingenuity proved pivotal in addressing this pressing humanitarian need amidst the conflict’s complexities. 

A Modified M129 E2 Leaflet Bomb 

On the morning of April 14, 1999, amidst the tumultuous landscape of the Kosovo conflict, Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) received an urgent call to action. The 46th Test Wing/Seek Eagle was tasked by Air Combat Command (ACC) to assemble a quick reaction test team. 

Their mission: to certify a modified M129 E2 leaflet bomb for delivery from various high-performance aircraft, including the A-10, F-15E, B-52H, and the F-16A-D. This marked the inception of an audacious initiative: to explore the feasibility of delivering humanitarian aid from high-flying jets. 

Traditionally used for disseminating leaflets, the M129 E2 leaflet bomb underwent a remarkable transformation. Instead of propaganda, Eglin testers were instructed to load the bomb with Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDR). 

The aim was to determine whether the Air Force could effectively deliver vital sustenance to those in need, even from altitudes typically associated with combat operations. This modified munition was designated as the M129 E3 by the Air Force. 

Seek Eagle mobilized its staff to tackle this challenge head-on. The team began developing the necessary flight clearance for testing the modified M129 E3, knowing full well the potential implications of their endeavor. 

The story of how Eglin AFB created the M129 E3 “Cookie Bomb” in four days
M129 E3 Parody printed in the Northwest Florida Daily News.

The M129 Series Leaflet bomb, the canvas for this innovative project, was constructed of fiberglass-reinforced plastic. Longitudinally split into two sections and held together by four latch assemblies on each side, it formed a cylindrical body with an ogival-shaped nose when assembled.

The M129 E2 featured a larger reinforcing plate inside the top half of the body, which enhanced its structural integrity against ejection forces and pylon sway brace pressures. 

The mechanics of the bomb’s deployment were complex yet precise. Upon release from the aircraft, an arming wire withdrew from a mechanically timed fuse, setting the weapon in motion and initiating a timer. 

At a predetermined moment, the armed fuse would trigger the detonating cord, which caused the canister halves to separate and dispense their life-saving contents. 

Seek Eagle Quick Reaction Test

Flight Lt. Dominick Simms led the Seek Eagle Quick Reaction Test, prioritizing the determination of the new weapon’s mass properties before flight testing. 

He swiftly arranged for the procurement of necessary materials: 12 empty E2 canisters, sets of fins, and 300 lbs of HDRs. On April 16, 1999, Simms delegated tasks, sending individuals to retrieve fins and coordinating HDR delivery. 

Simms enlisted Senior Master Sgt. Mike Luther for packing the M129s and aimed to assess mass properties while he aimed to determine mass properties by April 17.

In the interim, Seek Eagle personnel referenced previous tests for initial insights, anticipating two potential outcomes. If the new weapon’s mass properties matched the existing M129 E2, additional flight tests wouldn’t be necessary for safety parameters. However, discrepancies would require further separation testing.

On April 15, 1999, the Plan 70 team convened to plan flight testing in light of the ACC’s request. Simms outlined resource needs and pushed forward with the program despite pending mass property confirmation.

Airmen install det cord on a M129 canister.

The team agreed to test the weapon on April 18 and resolved technical questions, opting to designate the modified weapon as MC-1, which was identified as an unknown weapon in the F-15E weapons computer. 

During past missions like Desert Storm and Southern Watch, aircrews used the designation MC-1 for stores that weren’t updated on weapons computers. 

Outcome Of The Tests 

On April 16, Seek Eagle personnel determined that flight testing was necessary due to the new weapon’s lighter weight with HDRs instead of leaflets and shifted the center of gravity. Quickly, bomb dump personnel packed four bundles of 12 HDRs into M129 canisters and measured their mass properties and center of gravity. 

The data showed the store was lighter and had a further aft center of gravity but within tolerance. Seek Eagle then cleared the flight of three M129 E3s per conformal fuel tank for a total of six per aircraft, equating to 288 HDRs per F-15E.

On April 17, the first M129 E3 test from an F-15E was conducted. Despite functioning as expected, it fell short of the target. The HDRs impacted in a circle of 1,500-2,000 feet, with some ruptured packages but edible contents. 

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The second drop missed the target but had a more confined impact area with similar damages. The third drop was aborted for inspection due to atmospheric pressure concerns. Post-flight inspection revealed some ruptured packets, which prompted engineers to recommend making slits in HDRs during packing.

While the M129 E3 successfully met the primary test objectives, there were limitations in its deployment from the F-15E aircraft. The carriage configuration of the F-15E/M129 E3 setup restricted the total number of Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDRs) that could be delivered to 288 per aircraft.

Recognizing this constraint, the test team recommended the F-15E as a secondary option, with the B-52 being the preferred choice due to its larger capacity.

In an impressive display of efficiency, the Eglin test team, in less than four days, showcased the flexibility of the AFMC’s Plan 70 process and its ability to rapidly implement modifications for the benefit of warfighters. 

However, even as the test was underway, European leadership sought additional options to enhance the delivery of HDRs on the ground.

Eventually, it was decided to utilize the C-17 aircraft at high altitudes for this purpose. These aircraft would drop tri-walled boxes filled with Humanitarian Daily Rations, offering a more effective method to saturate the targeted areas with essential supplies. 

This decision highlighted the collaborative efforts and adaptability of military leadership in responding to evolving challenges in conflict zones.