TATB is a benzene ring with alternating nitro and amino groups attached around it. As an explosive, it has a detonation velocity of 7,350 meters per second, less than RDX (8,750), but more than TNT (6900).
The main distinguishing feature of TATB is its insensitivity to shock, impact, vibration, or flame. It is extremely difficult to accidentally detonate. This is a big concern with nuclear weapons, which are activated by high explosives (an accidental nuclear explosion could be somewhat embarrassing). Explosives that might be carried by aircraft need to be able to hit the ground without going off in the event of a crash.
TATB is sometimes mixed with other explosives (such as 15% HMX in the plastic bonded explosive PBX-9503), but usually it is used alone, to make the most out of its insensitivity to accidental detonation.
TATB, first tested in 1955 and 1956, is the first in a class of explosives selected for their insensitivity. Others in this class include FOX-7.
When using a more sensitive explosive, such as TNT, RDX, or HMX, a detonating cord can be sufficient to set off the device. TATB will not detonate reliably from detonating cord, so a more sensitive secondary explosive (such as HMX) is used, and the TATB becomes a tertiary explosive.
TATB is a very flat molecule, similar to graphite. This gives it a lubricating effect (lubricity) that makes it easy to press into molds while retaining the high density needed for a high explosive. When coupled with a fluoropolymer (such as Teflon) in a polymer-bonded explosive, this effect is increased.