Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What is better – missile or guided bomb?

Russian Guided weapons; far right is KAB-1500KR, second from the right is KAB-500KR.

photo Remko van de Bunt

It was recently unveiled that Russian Air Force tests three types of new guided bombs. There are: UPAB-1500KR, which is a gliding version of KAB-1500KR heavy TV-guided bomb; KAB-500S GPS/Glonass guided bomb similar to American JDAM and KAB-250L, first Russian light laser guided bomb, very similar to American GBU-12. At the same time no new tactical guided missile was recently developed in Russia, only some new versions of existing types. Interestingly, for many years Soviet Union preferred missiles over the guided bombs. The necessity to drop guided bomb from medium or high altitude was deemed as a serious imitation of the guided bomb. It was assessed that a missile launched from a quick jump to 200-300 m, at some distance to the target (typically 5-7 km) would guarantee engagement of a battlefield target before its defense could react. Even when the launching aircraft would enter the range of small caliber AAA guns and MANPADs envelope, it would happen after the missile launch and the target kill probability is still high. Along with the guided missiles, also the other weapon was favorable. It was a retarded bomb, which was used in various size (100, 250 or 500 kg). The OFAB-250ShN or FAB-500Sh bombs, equipped with parachutes, could be dropped from level flight on the altitude of 50 m and usually hit the target with accuracy of 15-20 m, almost comparable with the accuracy of laser guided bomb dropped from high altitude. Even when somebody says that 15 m is not the same as 3 m, but I would like not to be even 200 m from 500 kg bomb explosion, not mentioning 15-20 m. My wing was allowed to drop the 250 or 500 kg retarded bombs against only specific targets at shooting range, because dropping them against a tanks in column (real T-34s withdrawn from service; my favorite target) usually overthrown the poor tanks turret down, and the commandant of the range had to hire a heavy crane to put the wreckage back on place. The both, retarded bombs and guided missiles could be used on relatively low altitudes at high speed and do not expose the aircraft against air defense fire. So according to this notion all the Soviet Su-17 and MiG-27, other Warsaw Pact countries Su-22 and MiG-23BN were armed with missiles. Even the Su-24M attacking in the first wave were to carry missiles, though usually heavier ones


At 5:25 AM, Blogger Alex said...

How did those tactics translate to the Su-25? And, BTW, what were the targets for the 1500kg bomb in Afghanistan?

At 9:03 PM, Blogger Michal A. Fiszer said...

Su-25 was initially unwanted aircraft but then it was used like "fast combat helicopter". It theoretically could launch laser guided missiles (Kh-25ML), but this was rarely used. It did not carry guided bombs. It was mainly armed with unguided rockets of various calibers. Interestingly, Russians always attempted to arm it with anti-tank missiles, What was actually achieved in Su-25T version (never put into series production), in the form of Vikhr missiles (Russian Brimestones).

The 1500 kg bombs in Afghanistan were mainly used to down the entries to caves.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Alex said...

"Unwanted aircraft" - it's interesting, then, that the Su25 faced the same lack of interest that its Western opposite the A-10 did in its early days - the USAF wasn't too keen, most of them now belong to reservist/National Guard squadrons.

Going further back, our Harrier was not universally loved by the RAF top bureaucracy when it arrived (although that changed with experience of operating it and their success in the Falklands). But both aircraft are very formidable CAS platforms indeed (personally I think Harrier with the A10's gun would be as close to perfection in that role as is thinkable, but the weight rules it out).

I would suspect that it's because air force generals tend to have been fighter pilots in the strict sense, i.e. air defence or air superiority roles, or strategic bombers, and don't really take CAS seriously because it involves close integration with the army, "fast combat helicopter" aircraft types, and you can't call yourself an Ace.

Today, of course, a large majority of all combat air missions are essentially CAS even if flown by deep strike aircraft or even B-2s.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Michael Puttre said...

I've spoken to US Air Force officers who have flown both the F-16 and the A-10. They said that if you really wanted to advance your career, you had to avoid getting "stuck" in the A-10. You had to go with the fast movers, even though the A-10 was more fun to fly. The "fighter mafia" lives...

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Eric Blair said...

Heh. I remember having a similar conversation with an USAF weather guy. He said all the 'fun' weather happened below 7,000 feet. (Or something to that effect).

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