What's New With Smart Weapons
In 1944, it took 108 B-17s dropping 648 bombs to destroy a point target. In Vietnam, similar targets required 176 bombs. Now, a few precision guided munitions (PGM) can do the job. Precision munitions also enhance strategic agility. For example, just over three C-5 sorties per day could have supplied every PGM used by the Air Force during the Gulf War. But the types of weapons in the US inventory remained largely unchanged since the end of the Vietnam War. During the 1980s a variety of "transitional" weapons were acquired in small numbers, carried on a limited number of platforms. Desert Storm demonstrated the current weapons’ effectiveness, and revealed their shortcomings.
Since Desert Storm, the Air Force has:
Although a number of these new-generation precision munitions are entering production, as of late 1998 only relativey trivial numbers are actually available for combat. While tens of thousands of these weapons are slated for delivery over the coming decade, no more than a few dozen are currently combat ready.
- Tripled the number of precision-capable platforms since the war
- Boosted PGM inventories by 25 percent above pre-war levels
- Developed new generations of PGMs with enhanced accuracy, standoff, and adverse weather capabilities
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Air Force and Navy began development of "next generation" weapons to fulfill the shortcomings of the earlier weapons. All of these are now in development, or in the initial stages of production.
These new weapons are all autonomously guided and have adverse weather capability. These weapons are being integrated into virtually every American combat aircraft.
- Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW) is an adverse-weather, short-range, stand-off anti-armor/SEAD dispenser weapon. A small number of these weapons became operational with the Navy in December 1997.
- Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is an Inertial Navigation System (INS)/GPS guidance tail kit that converts dumb bombs into accurate adverse-weather capable weapons. JDAM was certified as operational capable on the B-2 in July 1997, and achieved operational status with other selected Air Force units in late 1998, including Limited Initial Operational Capability which was achieved on the B-52 in December 1998. JDAM modification kits will be installed on an initial block of seven B-1B bombers by January 1999.
- Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) provides a similar capability for cluster munition dispensers. Achieving an accuracy of less then 30 feet in tests, the munition is expected to enter general service by April 1999 following approval on 03 August 1998 for initial production. WCMD Limited Initial Operational Capability was achieved on the B-52 in November 1998.
- The Sensor Fused Weapon follow-on (SFW P3I), which will increase the accuracy, enlarge the pattern, and offer greater kills-per-pass than the original SFW, is slated for deployment around the turn of the century.
- Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM) provides long-range, precision strike with a limited hard target penetration capability. Currently in development, it will enter the inventory by around 2001.
Laser Guided Bombs
Laser guided bombs [LGBs] remain the most numerous precision guided munition, with roughly 25,000 in the current inventory. During Desert Storm, the F-111F and the F-117 accounted for the majority of the guided bomb tonnage delivered against strategic targets. The Navy's A-6E, which is no longer in service, and other aircraft, were used to deliver LGBs was used only sparingly. Demonstrated accuracies are estimated at between three and eight meters. Subsequent improvements include:
Although laser-guided bombs have demonstrated the ability to destroy point targets with only a few rounds per aim point, their employment faces several constraints. The primary limitation on
their use is the requirement for a clear line of sight between the bomb's laser seeker and the laser spot-beam designating the target, which is not possible under adverse weather conditions [rain, clouds, dust, etc]. Additionally, laser designators are deployed on only a limited number of aircraft, and the number of platforms that can deliver LGBs is much larger than the number that have independent target designation capabilities.
- In Desert Storm, 229 US aircraft were capable of delivering laser-guided munitions. By 1996 the expanded installation of low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night (LANTIRN) pods on F-15Es and block 40 F-16s had increased this capability within the Air Force to approximately 500 platforms.
- Only four AAS-38 Nite Hawk laser target designator systems were available for the Navy's F/A-18 Hornet during the Gulf War. The improved AAS-38A Laser Target Designator/Rangefinder (LTD/R) was cleared for Fleet service on Hornet-C/Ds in January 1993.
- The LANTIRN laser guided bomb designator system, modified for the Navy's F-14 Tomcat Strike Fighter, became operational in June 1996. While only a few aircraft deployed aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) are currently so equiped, eventually all 210 F-14 Tomcat fighter aircraft will receive the LANTIRN upgrade.
Global Positioning System Munitions
The impending massive expansion of precision munition inventories is largely a product of the introduction of relatively inexpensive and highly accurate guidance systems incorporating receivers for the Navstar Global Positioning System [GPS]. These new munitions will provide accuracies comparable to LGBs, while overcoming adverse weather limitations, and eliminating the need for laser target designation systems.
These GPS munitions will also facilitate accurate delivery of area munitions from the higher altitudes that are characteristic of post-Cold War air operations. Low level employment is one of the most demanding tasks facing fighter/attack crews, but during the Cold War these tactics were dictated by the nature of the Warsaw Pact air defense threat. The major disadvantage of a low level delivery is the requirement to fly over the target and its associated air defense weapons. During the Gulf War air campaign initial aircraft losses early in the air campaign resulted from low-altitude munition deliveries. Subsequently the majority of bombs were released from aircraft flying above 12,000 to 15,000 feet. Higher altitudes provided a relative sanctuary from most air defenses but resulted in a major compromise in terms of bomb accuracy and, ultimately, effectiveness. Although quite inexpensive and less restricted by low visibility, unguided munitions cannot reliably be employed against point targets from medium and high altitudes. The addition of JDAM and WCMD will solve these problems.
But pending the arrival of these new munitions, American air operations in Kosovo during early 1999 largely depended on the same precision munitions used [or available for use] in Desert Storm in 1991, or Deliberate Force in 1995. These were supplemented, though not yet replaced, by the small numbers of more sophisticated "transitional" weapons that entered the inventory in the early 1990s, as well as very limited numbers of the newer "next generation" weapons now transitioning to operational units.
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Updated Saturday, March 04, 2000 6:27:51 PM