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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Precision Guided Weapons, Part 1

Weapons of the War in Afghanistan

In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day. 

Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan. 

For our nineteenth installment let's take a look at the some of the common precision guided weapons used in the War in Afghanistan.


Part I: The United States

The Guided Bomb Unit 28 (GBU-28) is a 5,000-pound laser-guided "bunker busting" bomb nicknamed "Deep Throat" (and unofficially nicknamed "The Saddamizer" by a design team worker, alluding to its initial purpose of bombing a bunker believed to be then-occupied by Saddam Hussein during Operation Desert Storm) produced originally by the Watervliet Arsenal, Watervliet, New York. It was designed, manufactured, and deployed in less than three weeks due to an urgent need during Operation Desert Storm to penetrate hardened Iraqi command centers located deep underground. Only two of the weapons were dropped in Desert Storm, both by F-111Fs.

The Enhanced GBU-28 augments the laser-guidance with Inertial navigation and GPS guidance systems.

In August 1990, the U.S. military began planning an air offensive campaign against Iraq. Planners noticed that a few command and control bunkers in Baghdad were located deep underground to withstand heavy fire. Doubts were raised about the ability of the BLU-109/B to penetrate such fortified structures, so the USAF Air Armament Division at Eglin AFB, Florida was asked to create a weapon that could, and engineer Al Weimorts sketched improved BLU-109 variants. By January 1991, as the Persian Gulf War was well underway, it was determined that the BLU-109/B-equipped laser-guided bombs (LGB) would be unable to penetrate fortified bunkers deep underground.

The initial batch of GBU-28s was built from modified 8 inch/203 mm artillery barrels (principally from deactivated M110 howitzers), but later examples are purpose-built with the BLU-113 bomb body made by National Forge of Irvine, Pennsylvania. They weigh 4,700 pounds and contain 630 pounds of high explosive.

The GBU-28 C/B version uses the 4450 pound BLU-122 bomb body, which contains AFX-757 explosive in a 3500-pound casing machined from a single piece of ES-1 Eglin steel alloy.

The operator illuminates a target with a laser designator and the munition guides itself to the spot of laser light reflected from the target. When the GBU-28 hits the ground, a short-delay time fuze is activated which triggers detonation when it has penetrated deeply enough to destroy the target.

The bomb underwent testing at the Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, a test facility for United States Department of Energy funded weapon programs. An F-111F of the 431st TES (Test & Evaluation Squadron) based at McClellan AFB in California dropped the first GBU-28 at Tonopah. It proved capable of penetrating over 30 meters (100 ft) of earth or 6 meters (20 ft) of solid concrete; this was demonstrated when a test bomb, bolted to a rocket sled, smashed through 22 ft (6.7 m) of reinforced concrete and still retained enough kinetic energy to travel a mile downrange. The GBU-28 is unique in that the total development time from conception to the first drop test took only two weeks, and the weapon went into active service after only one test drop, at Eglin AFB, Florida on 19 February 1991.

The bomb was used during Operations Enduring Freedom in 2002 and Iraqi Freedom in 2003 by USAF F-15Es.

GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB)
The GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) is a 250 lb precision-guided glide bomb that is intended to provide aircraft with the ability to carry a higher number of more accurate bombs. Most US Air Force aircraft will be able to carry (using the BRU-61/A rack) a pack of four SDBs in place of a single 2,000 lb bomb.

The Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB-II) / GBU-53/B, adds a tri-mode seeker (radar, infrared homing, and semiactive laser guidance) to the INS and GPS guidance of the original SDB.

The original SDB is equipped with a GPS-aided inertial navigation system to attack fixed/stationary targets such as fuel depots, bunkers, etc. The second variant (Raytheon's GBU-53 SDB II) will include a thermal seeker and radar with automatic target recognition features for striking mobile targets such as tanks, vehicles, and mobile command posts.

The small size of the bomb allows a single strike aircraft to carry more of the munitions than is possible using currently available bomb units. The SDB carries approximately 38 lb (17 kg) of AFX-757 high explosive. It also has integrated "DiamondBack" type wings which deploy after release, increasing the glide time and therefore the maximum range. Its size and accuracy allow for an effective munition with less collateral damage. Warhead penetration is 3 feet of steel reinforced concrete and the fuze has electronic safe and fire (ESAF) cockpit selectable functions, including air burst and delayed options.

The GBU-39 has a circular error probable (CEP) of 5–8 m (16–26 ft). CEP is reduced by updating differential GPS offsets prior to weapon release. These offsets are calculated using an SDB Accuracy Support Infrastructure, consisting of three or more GPS receivers at fixed locations transmitting calculated location to a correlation station at the theater Air Operations Center. The corrections are then transmitted by Link 16 to SDB-equipped aircraft.

In November 2014, the U.S. Air Force began development of a version of the SDB I intended to track and attack sources of electronic warfare jamming directed to disrupt the munitions' guidance. The home-on-GPS jam (HOG-J) seeker works similar to the AGM-88 HARM to follow the source of a radio-frequency jammer to destroy it.

In January 2016, the Air Force awarded a contract to Scientific Systems Co. Inc. to demonstrate the company's ImageNav technology, a vision-based navigation and precision targeting system that compares a terrain database with the host platform's sensor to make course corrections. ImageNav technology has demonstrated target geo-location and navigation precision greater than three meters.

In January 2016, Orbital ATK revealed that the Alternative Warhead (AW), designed for the M270's GMLRS to achieve area effects without leaving behind unexploded ordnance, had been successfully tested on the SDB.

GBU-39 began separation tests on the F-22 in early September 2007 after more than a year of sometimes difficult work to integrate the weapon in the weapons bay and carry out airborne captive carry tests.

The SDB is currently integrated on the F-15E Strike Eagle, Panavia Tornado, JAS-39 Gripen and AC-130W. Future integration is planned for the F-16 Fighting Falcon (already incorporated on Dutch F-16's), F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, A-10 Thunderbolt II, B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, and the B-52 Stratofortress. Other aircraft, including UCAVs, may also receive the necessary upgrades.

The General Atomics Predator C is also planned to carry this weapon.

Under a contract awarded in September 2006, Boeing developed a version of the SDB I which replaces the steel casing with a lightweight composite casing and the warhead with a focused-blast explosive such as Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). This should further reduce collateral damage when using the weapon for pin-point strikes in urban areas.

On 28 February 2008, Boeing celebrated the delivery of the first 50 FLM weapons.

The USAF intends to use the same FLM casing on a weapon of 500 pounds (227 kg).

In December 2013, Boeing delivered the last of the 500 FLMs under contract.

In mid-2012, the U.S. Senate recommended zeroing out funding for the SDB II due to fielding delays with the F-35 Lightning II. With the delay in SDB II fielding, Boeing recommended an upgrade to their SDB as a temporary gap-filler to get desired performance at a fraction of the cost. Called the Laser Small Diameter Bomb (LSDB), it integrates the laser used on the JDAM to enable the bomb to strike moving targets. Boeing began testing the LSDB in 2011 and successfully hit targets traveling 30–50 mph (48–80 km/h). In June 2013, the Air Force announced it would award Boeing a contract to develop and test the LSDB; the contract is for phase one part two engineering, integration and test, and production support and an LSDB Weapon Simulator. Boeing says the LSDB can be built at a lower cost than the planned Raytheon SDB II, as it will use the same semi-active laser sensor as the JDAM to hit moving and maritime targets. However, Boeing admits that it does not have the capability to engage targets in zero-visibility weather, as it lacks the SDB II's millimeter wave radar. The Laser SDB began fielding with the U.S. Special Operations Command in 2014.

Boeing is modifying the Small Diameter Bomb with a rocket motor to be launched from ground-based missile systems such as the M270 MLRS. With the Army demilitarizing cluster munitions from M26 rockets, the company says a special adapter case could reuse the rocket to launch the SDB. After the motor launches it to a high enough altitude and speed, the wings will deploy and glide the bomb to its target. The company believes it can fill a gap for long-range precision fires while using its smaller warhead to save larger rocket munitions for strategic targets. While typical MLRS systems follow a ballistic trajectory, the rocket-launched SDB can be launched to an altitude and glide on a selected trajectory. Boeing and Saab Group conducted three successful GLSDB tests in February 2015. The system is cost-effective, utilizing an existing weapon paired with a stockpiled rocket motor, while maintaining the loadout on a rocket artillery system. Unlike other artillery weapons, the GLSDB offers 360-degree coverage for high and low angles of attack, flying around terrain to hit targets on the back of mountains, or circling back around to a target behind the launch vehicle. The GLSDB has a range of 93 miles, and can also hit targets 43 miles behind it.

The AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response) is a precision-guided, air-launched cruise missile produced by Boeing Defense, Space & Security for the United States Armed Forces and their allies. Developed from the AGM-84E SLAM (Standoff Land Attack Missile) (itself developed by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems from the McDonnell Douglas Harpoon antiship missile), the SLAM-ER is capable of attacking land and sea targets at medium-to-long-ranges (155 nautical miles/250 km maximum). The SLAM-ER relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS) and infrared imaging for its navigation and control, and it can strike both moving and stationary targets.

The SLAM-ER, can be remotely controlled while in flight, and it can be redirected to another target after launch if the original target has already been destroyed, or is no longer considered to be dangerous (command guidance). The SLAM-ER is a very accurate weapon; as of 2009 it had the best circular error probable (CEP) of any missile used by the U.S. Navy.

The SLAM-ER obtained initial operating capability in June 2000. A total of three SLAM-ER missiles were fired by the U.S. Navy during the Iraq War, and the missile was also used during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

The General Electric Company provides an Automatic Target Recognition Unit (ATRU) for the SLAM-ER that processes prelaunch and postlaunch targeting data, allows high speed video comparison (DSMAC), and enables the SLAM-ER to be used in a true "fire and forget" manner. It also includes a "man-in-the-loop" mode, where the pilot or weapons system officer can designate the point of impact precisely, even if the target has no distinguishing infrared signature. It can be launched and controlled by a variety of aircraft including the F/A-18 Hornet, F/A-18 Super Hornet, and P-3C Orion, as well as by the U.S. Air Force's F-15E Strike Eagle. Before the retirement of the S-3B Viking, it was also able to launch and control the SLAM-ER, and it is anticipated that the U.S. Navy's new land-based patrol plane, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon will carry the SLAM-ER as well. The South Korean air force's version of the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15K Slam Eagle, has been capable of launching and controlling the SLAM-ER since 2006 in test exercises.

AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW)
The AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) is the product of a joint venture between the United States Navy and Air Force to deploy a standardized medium range precision guided weapon, especially for engagement of defended targets from outside the range of standard anti-aircraft defenses, thereby increasing aircraft survivability and minimizing friendly losses.

The AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon or JSOW is currently in the fleet and in use by the U.S. Navy. Foreign Military Sales cases have been signed with Poland and Turkey for use with their F-16 fighters. Finland, Greece and Singapore are pursuing FMS cases at this time. The AGM-154 is intended to provide a low cost, highly lethal glide weapon with a standoff capability. The JSOW family of air-to-surface glide weapons are 1,000 lb class weapons that provide standoff capabilities from 28 km (15 nmi) low altitude launch and up to 110 km (60 nmi) high altitude launch. The JSOW can be used against a variety of land targets and operates from ranges outside enemy point defenses.

The JSOW is a launch and leave weapon that employs a tightly coupled Global Positioning System (GPS)/Inertial Navigation System (INS), and is capable of day/night and adverse weather operations. The AGM-154A (JSOW A) uses GPS/INS for terminal guidance, while the AGM-154C (JSOW C) uses an infra-red seeker for terminal guidance.

The JSOW is just over 160 in in length and weighs about 1,000 lb. The JSOW was originally to be delivered in three variants, each of which uses a common air vehicle, or truck, while substituting various payloads. The AGM-154A (JSOW-A) entered service in 1999. The US Navy and Air Force developed the AGM-154B (JSOW B) up until Multi-Service Operational Test & Evaluation (MOT&E) but the Navy decided not to procure the weapon when the Air Force left the program. The AGM-154C (JSOW BROACH) entered service in February 2005.

During the 1990s JSOW was considered to be one of the most successful development programs in DOD history. The system was introduced to operational use a year ahead of schedule. Unlike most guided weapons and aircraft, the system never had a weight management problem, and was deployed at its target weight. The system introduced a new type of fuse, but was able to obtain authority from an independent safety review in record time. Many observers credited these accomplishments to the management style chosen by the DOD and Texas Instruments. After a competitive selection, the program staff was organized into integrated product teams with members from the government, the prime Texas Instruments and subcontractors. In one case, the prime determined that the best-in-class supplier for a design service was the government, and gave part of its funding back. JSOW was recognized in 1996 with a Laurels Award from Aviation Week & Space Technology. It is notable for a guided weapon to receive this award, which is normally reserved for much larger systems. Because of this history, JSOW has been used as a case study for development programs, and for Integrated Product Teams, and is sometimes cited in academic research on program management.

AGM-154A (baseline JSOW)
The warhead of the AGM-154A consists of 145 BLU-97/B Combined Effects Bomb (CEB) submunitions. These bomblets have a shaped charge for armor defeating capability, a fragmenting case for material destruction, and a zirconium ring for incendiary effects.

AGM-154B (anti-armor)
The warhead for the AGM-154B is the BLU-108/B from the Air Force's Sensor Fuzed Weapon (SFW) program. The JSOW B was to carry six BLU-108/B submunitions. Each submunition releases four projectiles (total of 24 per weapon) that use infrared sensors to detect targets. When a submunition detects that it is aligned with a target, it fires, creating an explosively formed penetrator capable of defeating vehicle armor. This program concluded development but the Navy decided not to procure the weapon.

AGM-154C (unitary variant)
The AGM-154C uses an Imaging Infrared (IIR) terminal seeker with autonomous guidance. The AGM-154C carries the BROACH warhead. This two stage warhead is made up from a WDU-44 shaped augmenting warhead and a WDU-45 follow through bomb. The weapon is designed to attack hardened targets. It entered service with the US Navy in February 2005.

Full rate production started on December 29, 1999. In June 2000 Raytheon was contracted to develop an enhanced electronics package for the JSOW to prevent electronic spoofing of GPS signals. This ultimately resulted in the JSOW Block II weapon, incorporating multiple cost reduction initiatives in addition to the Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) capability. JSOW Block II was scheduled to begin production in March 2007.

The JSOW contains a modular control and deployment interface that allows future enhancement and additional configurations since it is likely that additional variants will emerge. The basic airframe is advertised as a "truck" and the JSOW-as-a-truck capability is widely advertised. Raytheon has placed a tremendous investment in the JSOW program and will certainly try to extend the Department of Defense contracts for as long as possible with system upgrades and repackagings for new missions and targets.

Raytheon was as of 2005 under contract to develop the JSOW Block III, which adds a Link-16 weapon data link and moving maritime target capability to the AGM-154C. It was scheduled to be produced in 2009. The first three launches were conducted in August 2011 from an F/A-18F. The JSOW-C1 completed integrated test and evaluations in January 2015, moving on to operational tests. The C1 version is slated for delivery in 2016. It achieved Initial Operating Capability on 22 June 2016.

AGM-154A-1 (JSOW-A1)
In addition, the AGM-154A-1 configuration is under development by Raytheon for FMS sales. This version replaces the submunition payload of the AGM-154A with a BLU-111 warhead to enhance blast-fragmentation effects without the unexploded ordnance (UXO) concerns with the BLU-97/B payload.

Powered JSOW (JSOW-ER)
A Hamilton-Sundstrand TJ-150 turbojet engine for a powered JSOW is being tested. The powered variant name is JSOW-ER, where "ER" is for "extended range". JSOW-ER will increase range from 130 to 560 kilometres (70 to 300 nmi).

The AGM-154A was the first variant to be used in combat. The AGM-154A traditionally is used for SEAD missions. Initial deployment testing occurred aboard USS Nimitz and later aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. The first combat deployment of the JSOW occurred over southern Iraq on December 17, 1998 when launched by a single F/A-18C from the "Checkerboards" of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312, Carrier Air Wing 3 embarked aboard USS Enterprise during Operation Desert Fox. The glide range of the JSOW allowed the weapon to strike a target located in the southern suburbs of Baghdad. This weapon enjoyed success since its early use. One adverse event occurred in February 2001, when a strike of F/A-18s from the USS Harry S. Truman battle group launched a massive attack on Iraqi air-defense sites, nearly every weapon missed the target. The cause of the miss was reported as a software problem. This problem was solved soon afterward. Since 1998, at least 400 of the JSOW weapons have been used in the following conflicts: Operation Desert Fox, Operation Southern Watch, NATO Operation Allied Force, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Shawn G in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


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