Friday, December 02, 2005

Window Breaks the Kammhuber Line

In a nine-day campaign in late July and early August 1943, nearly 1,000 night bombers of the British RAF Bomber Command, supported by US daylight bombers of 8th Air Force, struck at targets in the north German port city of Hamburg. The intensity of the attacks coincided with the near-paralysis of German radar-directed defenses engineered through anti-radar countermeasures. Nearly 50,000 Germans perished in the bombings and ensuing firestorm that consumed most of the city.

The widespread devastation and shocking death toll of the RAF-led campaign was the result of meticulous planning, the orchestration of heavy bombers, and the application of heretofore top-secret technology, released for the purpose. It was also the mindspring of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, who burned to bring the population centers and heavy industry of Germany under the wings of his four-engine heavy bombers. "They have sown the wind, and so they shall reap the whirlwind," Harris said while watching fires rage out of control during the Luftwaffe's "Blitz" raids against London in 1940.

Spiders in the Web
The success against Hamburg broke a period of heavy losses for Bomber Command at the hands of night fighters of the Luftwaffe's Nachtjagdgruppen that held the so-called "Kammhuber Line." Named for its chief architect, Generalleutnant Josef Kammhuber, a former bomber commander, the Kammhuber Line involved an extensive network of searchlights, radar, and night fighters based in occupied France, Belgium, and Holland, covering the approach routes of the British bombers. Early on, searchlights illuminated each bomber as a Messerschmidt Bf-110 or Junkers Ju-88 night fighter assigned to that area closed in for the kill. During 1941, a radar-controlled master searchlight introduced in 1941 made the Kammhuber Line even more effective by locking onto bombers automatically, illuminating the target with a pale blue guide beam that manually directed searchlights could pick up.

Radar-directed searchlights gave way to a more elaborate system of search and tracking ground radar and radio stations, known collectively as the "Himmelbett" system. A Himmelbett station consisted of a Freya radar for early warning with a range of 60 to 150 km, a Würzburg radar for plotting bombers, and a second Würzburg radar for guiding the night fighter. Each Himmelbett zone or "box" had a radius equal to the range of the Würzburg tracking radar (about 43 km wide and 34 km deep). These boxes were the building blocks of the improved Kammhuber Line. Target range, altitude, speed, and bearing data were sent to a ground control station that directed night fighters toward the enemy bomber "stream." Thus, each night fighter was like a spider at the center of an invisible web of beams.

The British employed a succession of radar jammers in an effort to blind the German Himmelbett network. The Germans responded with modifications to existing equipment and new systems that operated in different frequency ranges. This deadly game of one-upmanship spiraled on, and still bombers fell to the predations of the night fighters. In the weeks prior to the Hamburg raids, Bomber Command lost 872 bombers in the Battle of the Ruhr. However, the British had a radar countermeasure up their sleeves that they knew would be completely effective, but they had been reluctant to use it.

In the late 1930s, British electronic-warfare pioneer Reginald V. Jones demonstrated that strips of metal foil produced radar echoes. Subsequent tests with bundles of metal strips released from aircraft showed that in sufficient numbers the echoes took on the appearance of bombers as far as radars were concerned. Squadrons of bombers releasing foil bundles would effectively counter any radar operating between 200 and 600 MHz. Interestingly, similar tests were proceeding in parallel in Britain and Germany under the strictest secrecy. Both sides were worried that their respective radar networks would be compromised were knowledge of the technique to get out. The fear prompted Reichmarschall Hermann Göring to ban all further development of the German project, code named "Dueppel." The British proceeded with their project; code named "Window," but Prime Minister Winston Churchill would not allow it to be used operationally -- yet.

Operation Gomorrah
Churchill decided to "open the Window" for Air Marshal Harris' proposed air offensive against Hamburg. This campaign, dubbed Operation Gomorrah, was designed to utterly destroy the city in true biblical fashion. On the night of July 24-25, RAF Mosquito pathfinder aircraft equipped with H2S terrain-mapping radar sets guided nearly 800 Lancaster, Halifax, and Stirling four-engine bombers toward their targets. The aircrews hurled prodigious amounts of Window bundles from their airplanes through chutes cut into the fuselages.

The Window strips were 30 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters wide and were packaged in packets containing 2,000 strips each. 46,000 packets were dropped, 92 million strips in all. Window completely disrupted German air defenses as the "heavies" plodded relentlessly toward their targets. German night fighter radar operators reported phantom bombers appearing and disappearing abruptly and repeatedly. Only 12 British bombers were lost during the raid.

The RAF would revisit Hamburg three times more in the days ahead, adding more incendiary bombs to the inferno. US B-17 Flying Fortresses made modest contributions twice during daylight raids. In those nine days in late July and early August nearly as many German civilians would die as all British civilians killed by German bombs in the entire war. In Germany, the firebombing of Hamburg became known as "Die Katastrophe."

For more on the German night fighter command and control system in WWII, see "Who'll Stop the Rain?" by Colonel Michael Svejgaard, Royal Danish Air Force.

For more on the destruction of Hamburg, see "Window on Gomorrah" by V. A. Pheasant, MBE.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

China's Future Air Force

At a fighter jet conference in mid-November in Washington, Richard D. Fisher, vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said he expects two to three new Chinese aircraft to come into readiness by the end of the next decade that will move the country's fighter force from so-called "second generation" to "fifth generation" – basically, F/A-22- or F-35-lite, with stealthy characteristics, active phased-array radar, internal weapons, and advanced networking capabilities.

China has 17 active aircraft programs at the moment, Fisher said, including the J-11; two variants of the Su-30; the J-10; the J-8; the J-7, which is being modernized as the JF-17 (see "Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Continues Flight Testing"); and an advanced version of the Q-10. Of each type, China could be producing some 15-30 aircraft a year, equal to about one new regiment or two for each program.

In general, the country is looking to acquire whatever kind of advanced technology it can get from other countries, thus the on-and-off push to lift the European Union's non-binding arms embargo against China, an issue that for now has subsided as a result of strenuous US objections (see "Euro Parliament Favors China Arms Ban").

A Shenyang J-11 on the tarmac.
But here and there, despite trade restrictions, the military is steadily acquiring new technology. For example, while Chinese aircraft may not yet be able to sport advanced helmet display technology like the Joint Helmet Mounted Cuing System, the military is making progress toward fielding a comparable capability, thanks to both Israeli and domestic developers. For advanced weaponry, meanwhile, China thanks Russia for selling it the R-77 mid-range missile and the KH-31 anti-ship missile, among other armaments.
For more on this, see "China's Aims for '5th-Generation' Fighters."

25 years of service of Russian Kh-29 missile



Early Su-30MKK launching kH-29T missile. Photo KNAAPO Konsomolsk

One of the most successful Russian Kh-29 missile was accepted to service in 1980 and is still in use as one of the most widely spread air-to-ground Russian missile. The missile could be carried by modernized Su-27SM and is the main guided air-to-ground weapon of Su-24M, primary Russian ground attack aircraft. The missile is also used by Belarus (also on modernized MiG-29BM), Ukraine, Bulgaria (on Su-22M4), Poland (on Su-22M4), Slovakia (on Su-24M4), India (on Su-30MKI), China (on Su-30MKK). It was also used by East Germany and Czech Republic.
The development of the missile started in 1975 in KB “Molnia” in Moscow (previously OKB-4) lead by Matius Bisnovat, while the direct development was lead by Georgiy I. Khokhlov. The team had already developed some successful air-to-air missiles: R-8, R-4 (K-80) and R-40 (the latter was the main armament of MiG-25PD. The “Izdelye 64” (“product 64”), which latter became Kh-29 was to be the first air-to-ground missile developed by the team. However in 1976 a decision was taken that KB “Molnia” would be merged with some other entities to form NPO “Molnia” and the new company was tasked to develop Soviet space shuttle (Buran). In 1977 Matius Bisnovat died and all the missile works were passed to KB “Vympel” (former OKB-134) from Tushino, near Moscow. In the new design bureau the program was lead by G. Khokhlov, and since 1981 – by Genadiy Sokolovskiy. In 1994 Sokolovskiy became the directot of the development center FGUP GosMKB “Vympel” reorganized from the formed design bureau and the farther development of the Kh-29 was then lead by Avangard L. Kegeles. Since May 2004 the OAO Korporatsya Takticheskoye Raketnoye Vorozhuneye (Corporation Tactical Missile Weapon) was formed and the FGUP GosMKB “Vympel” became a part of the corporation, as the design and development facility. In the KB “Vympel” the direct works on the missile development were lead by L.N. Kheyfer.
The first firing of the missile took place in 1976. After extensive trials the missile was accepted to service in 1980, in two versions: semi-active laser guided Kh-29L and TV-guided Kh-29T.

Kh-29T of the Russian Air Force. Photo Michal Fiszer

Initially the Kh-29L (“Izdelye 64L”) and Kh-29T (“Izdelye 64T”) were produced by Leningradskiy Severny Zavod (Leningrad Northern Factory), and in 1982 the production was passed to BAPO “Iglim” in Baku. After dissolution of the Soviet Union, the production of the missile was again taken over by Leningradskiy Severny Zavod. The production was ended around 2003, but the exact number of missile produced is unknown. The missile will remain in service for next several years.
The Kh-29 missile was built from five main elements. In front is the semi-active laser seeker 24N1 developed by NPO “Geofizyka” from Moscow. It is exactly the same seeker, which is used on smaller Kh-25ML missile. Behind the seeker there is missile control unit, which controls small all moving surfaces in the front and the control surfaces on the larger wings mounted in the rear part of the missile. In the middle of the missile is the warhead of 317 kg weight, from which the explosive is 116 kg. The warhead is especially shaped for penetrating concrete and according to official data it can penetrate up to 1 m of concrete behind the 3 m of soil layer (before the explosion). After launch the missile climbs to about 5000 m, so the attack comes almost vertically. The fuze can be set either on the immediate explosion (for attacking such objects like bridges) or for short delay (for penetration of bunkers or other reinforced installations). In the missile rear a solid state rocket motor is mounted. It is PRD-228 working for 3.2-6.2 s and giving a thrust of 228 kN (51,500 pounds), which gives the missile the average speed of about Ma=1.2. In the very end of the missile there is a gas bottle for powering the controls.

Kh-29L missile belonging to 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing of Polish Air Force (Su-22M4), photo taken in 1991.
Photo Michal Fiszer

The missile can be fired from the distance from 2-3 km to 7-8 km and from altitudes from 200 m to 10,000 m, at the speeds between 600 and 1250 km/h. From altitudes of 200-500 m it is launched from horizontal flight, from altitudes 800-2000 m from shallow dive and from 1500 to 4000 m (optimal altitudes) is launched from more step dive. The launch altitude above 5000 m is purely theoretical capability, without serious tactical use. The missile weights 660 kg and has a length of 3875 mm. The wing span is 1100 mm and the diameter body of 380 mm.
The version Kh-29T is equipped with Tubus-2 TV seeker, developed by NPO “Impuls” from Moscow, working in visual waveband (0.4 to 0.95 μm). The missile before launch passes the picture to the screen in the cockpit and after launch is of “fire-and-forget” type. It is slightly heavier (680 kg) and flies a little bit slower. The maximum distance of launch is 8-10 km and the minimum distance is 3 km. The remaining data is the same.
In late 90s the the OAO Korporatsya Takticheskoye Raketnoye Vorozhuneye offered also Kh-29TD version (known as Kh-29TE for export) with some improvements to the seeker and the control system, with the range increased to 12-14 km. Probably some missiles of this version were produced in late 90s and early next decade.

Su-22M4 of Polish Air Force taking off with a Kh-29T missile.
Photo Waclaw Holys

Kh-29 was reliable weapon (I personally fired Kh-29T from Su-22M4 of Polish Air Force hitting the target at Drawsko Pomorskie shooting range), achieving 5-8 m of accuracy, which does not make much different at more than 100 kg of explosive. The missile is carried on the AKU-58 catapult-rail, which actually drops the missile down from the aircraft. When the missile is about 3 m below the aircraft, the steel wire connected to the aircraft release the safety pin, which ignite the missile’s engine. It is done to avoid blocking the missile on the rail of launching aircraft (more than 50,000 pounds of thrust!) and to avoid sacking the missile fumes to the aircraft’s air intake. Interestingly, the missile has a big fire “tail” for the first few seconds of flight, but than almost disappear from the pilot’s view, with only thin (almost invisible) trace of white smoke. The explosion is however impressive and really destructive.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wonder Weapon

I received an intriguing letter from a reader who is researching the use of early surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems by the Germans during World War II. Here's a digest:

Dear Mr. Puttre,

I just stumbled on to your excellent blog through your post on WWII ECM/RCM/ELINT missions flown by LTC. Roger Ihle with the 15th AF. I am doing research for a book on the 15Th AF's Sunday 17 December 1944 mission to the synthetic oil refineries at Odertal (Kozle, Poland). Aboard Col. Keese's B-24 (484th BG), radio operator Sgt. Herb Weinstein (German-speaking, A-2 Intelligence) was operating a "special" receiver in a small compartment in the aft bomb bay. Weinstein's monitoring of German fighter frequencies enabled Keese to contact P-51s of the 5th Sq, 52nd FG prior to a major attack by FW-190A-8s of JG300. The trailing 461st BG had no such equipment and suffered ten out of twenty-six B-24s shot down.

In addition, an after action report from the 485th alleges that they had six B-24s damaged by Nazi SAMS @ 1414 hrs @ 12,000 feet near the center of the Nagykanizsa Oil Triangle in southwestern Hungary on 17 Dec. 1944. The following day, the 2nd BG (B-17s) claimed they were attacked by Rheintochter SAMS over Wiener Neustadt. On the same date, a lone 451st B-24G "Shady Lady" went MIA about thirty miles from where the 485th alleged to have encountered the SAMS.

I've also came across a blurb that a Guy D. Carnine (B-24 pilot, 8th AF, 392nd BG) claimed the white contrail of a Nazi missile missed his wing by a couple of feet.

Author Leonard Mosley in his 1976 biography, Lindbergh, says that that CAL [Charles A. Lindbergh] was a member of a US Naval Technical Mission in Europe commanded by Henry Adam (Packy) Schade that arrived at GAF HQ in Zell am See, Austria, on 18 May 1945. Dip Ing Helmuth Schelp, chief aide to Adolf Baumker (CO of German AF Experiemntal Institute Nuremberg), handed CAL a two-inch thick report on the German rocket/missile program since the 1930s. That report, #373-45, recounts that the Germans launched 75 SAMS and brought down 70 four-engine bombers. (I was around Nike-Hercs in the late 1960s, and the number of hits sounds too high). I made snail-mail contact with Richard Keech of San Luis Obispo, CA. Dick is a retired NAA employee and remembers reading the original German file in the late 40s/early 50s.

Would you have any data or leads about Ferret B-24s or B-17s collecting "trons" from German SAMS etc?

Respectfully,
John D. Bybee
Vermont, IL

Interesting stuff. If anybody has any thoughts about how Mr. Bybee might collect additional information for his book, please leave them in the Comments section.

Mr. Bybee has also provided scans of documents and photos he has collected during this research. I have posted these images here. Of particular interest is a reference to the firing of "rockets" from the ground at B-24s in an after-action report. The missiles cited in the attack were Rheinochter SAMs, although most sources say that this missile never became operational. There are references to operational uses of the Wasserfall SAM, however, and even to claims of "decisive victory" when 50 or so missiles were launched at US bombers. The Wasserfall was the basis of early Soviet efforts to develop SAMs and was instrumental in the development in the US Nike system.

It is also worth noting a conclusion in a US Naval Technical Mission report that the Germans had poured enormous resources into brilliant technical accomplishments but then failed to capitalize on them.

Magic weapons are a compelling component of lore, from the dawn of civilization through the present. Magic weapons materialize in the real world in the form of wonder weapons. That the builders of wonder weapons sometimes imbue with their creations with war-winning powers is typically little more than wishful thinking. During World War II, influential leaders of the German war effort were heroic believers in the fate-reversing, if not war-winning, powers of a parade of wonder weapons, including jet fighters and bombers, super tanks, and inertially guided rockets -- including SAMs. Many of these weapons came as rude shocks to the Allies and were very effective in the battlespace, but all ultimately failed to stem the tide of the Third Reich’s demise, because they were deployed in too few numbers. Some have pointed out that the engineering and manufacturing resources expended on these wonder weapons actually hastened Germany’s defeat.

If the myths of our ancestors -- and even our fathers -- tell us anything, it is that you do not need a wonder weapon to kill the enemy. Mundane weapons will do just fine if you attend to the basics of strategy, tactics, logistics, maintenance, and sound planning. This isn’t to say that wonder weapons aren’t nice to have on hand and aren’t worth beseeching the DARPA gods for. But excessive belief in the powers of magic can lead to your undoing if you are not supplied with the basics. Everybody wants a silver bullet. But experience tells us that they are in short supply.

On the other hand, electronic warfare has often been seen as the red-headed stepchild of the military. It is consistantly underfunded, and EW platforms are almost always "high-value, low-density" assets. This was particularly true in WWII, at the dawn of EW, where many didn't see the value in "trons." Yet the anecdote that Mr. Bybee leads with demonstrating the life-saving advantage of ELINT is a reminder that sometimes wonder weapons are worth the effort.

UPDATE: Here is a post on the use of "Window," an early EW secret weapon, and its contribution to the destruction of Hamburg in WWII.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Airpower in Iraq

Articles by Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker are heavy on unnamed sources, but they are usually interesting, at least because they are controversial. In his latest -- "Up in the Air: Where is the Iraq war headed next?" -- he talks about concerns by the US Air Force over a possible shift to air power in Iraq as compensation for withdrawal of ground troops.

Various plans have been drawn up by military planners for withdrawal of various numbers of US troops in Iraq. That doesn't will it will definitely happen; it's just that like the Boy Scouts, the military wants to be prepared for anything. Sources in Hersh's article say that one thing these various withdrawal plans have in common is the increased use of airpower.

But with fewer US troops on the ground, would the Iraqi forces be trustworthy enough to do the targeting? Precision-guided weapons can be superbly accurate, but whether a target is successfully eliminated requires much more than just hitting the spot aimed for; it requires knowing where to target in the first place.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”

“It’s a serious business,” retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who was in charge of allied bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, said. “The Air Force has always had concerns about people ordering air strikes who are not Air Force forward air controllers. We need people on active duty to think it out, and they will. There has to be training to be sure that somebody is not trying to get even with somebody else.” (Asked for a comment, the Pentagon spokesman said there were plans in place for such training. He also noted that Iraq had no offensive airpower of its own, and thus would have to rely on the United States for some time.)

Such issues underscore the importance of intelligence gathering for effective military operations, no matter how advanced weaponry may be, and that intelligence isn't just about collecting a bunch of photos or documents together -- it means a human mind evaluating that information and deciding what it all means. Computers and machines continue to improve, but they can't totally automate war.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Talk, Computer

Urban ops are a lot harder to do when you don't speak the local natives' language, as the US military well knows. While it has boosted its efforts to train soldiers to speak key languages like Arabic (see "Renaissance Soldiers"), the US DoD also apparently hopes that it can create a machine that would simply translate what the other person is saying.

The latest program by DARPA is a $16 million project to develop software that would transcribe speach into text while simultaneously translating that text into English. Various handheld devices being touted at the most recent Association of the US Army show in Washington, though not as amitious as the DARPA project, are also supposed to help soldiers in the field when encountering language problems.

Maybe anything is better than nothing when it comes to this problem of language. Then again, given the complexities of language -- the way one word can have multiple meanings depending on the context, or how an individual person's accent can make a word sound similar to another, completely different word -- I wonder if this is not an instance where technology vendors promise solutions to a problem whose solution lies not in technology, but in old-fashioned human brain power.

For soldiers trying to win over the trust of the local populace during a mission, holding out a machine that speaks on their behalf or innaccurately translates what is being said seems possibly ridiculous. Imagine an American trying to use such a device to order a meal at a cafe in Paris -- the waiter would not be impressed.

A Better Urban Missile

There has been a lot of discussion about the power of thermobaric weapons that are just entering US arsenals. Defense Tech has an article today with some history and political implications of such weapons. However, this power is nothing new. Nearly all types of Soviet- and Russian-source anti-tank guided missiles have variants with thermobaric warheads. Plus, there are thermobaric warheads available for select battlefield rocket systems, including the 9K58 Smersh MLRS:


The 9M55S 300mm rocket projectile with a thermobaric warhead is designed to defeat unsheltered troops, as well as personnel in light field fortifications and in soft-skinned/lightly armored vehicles. The warhead weight is 243 kg with 100 kg of explosives. The diameter of the thermobaric field (with the temperature in excess of 1,000° C) is 25 meters.



The US is fairly late in adopting thermobaric warheads as battlefield weapons. However, the requirements for defeating enemies in urban environments has found many existing weapons wanting. Remember how many TOW missiles they fired into the house where Uday and Qusay were hiding out? The fact is, it is difficult to bring down a structure with existing types of weapons. The thermobaric warhead is just one component in the quest to build a better missile for an urban environment. Here is an excerpt from an article in eDefense Online by Ted McKenna about the thoughts of an Israeli officer on the subject:


An officer with the Israeli Defense Forces who spoke at a July 19-20 conference on urban warfare produced by Marcus Evans Defense said that anyone with the misfortune to have fought in an urban situation knows that missiles available today are not up to the challenge.

Speaking from experience in leading infantry in urban operations, the officer described one situation he encountered in which a group of individuals holed up in a building were targeted with a large number of TOW missiles. "I'm a little ashamed to say just how many," he said, "but let's just say it was a lot." After the smoke had cleared, it was found that the men inside had left by a back door and run off, such was the inability of the missiles to penetrate the building.

Given the interest in finding new technology to confront enemies in urban environments, perhaps something could be made that is effective. Ten basic characteristics must be considered when developing any type of missile, said the officer, who has spent about 15 years developing missiles. These 10 characteristics, in no particular order, are as follows:

1. Price: each missile should cost no more than $15,000 each
2. Firepower: the missiles should be able to penetrate any type of urban structure
3. Lightweight: weigh no more than 10 kg
4. Trainability
5. Simplicity
6. Accuracy: able to hit a window at 600 m
7. Reliability: "I was an infantry commander with personal experience in urban combat, and I can tell you that I would gladly make do with 85%."
8. Low collateral damage
9. Versatility
10. Range: loss of 50% accuracy when used at 1,200 meters, say

Firepower may be the most important question, the Israeli officer said. "We want the firepower of a cannon, but how large should the warhead be?" he said. If the warhead weighs 2 kg, then the entire system may weigh around 6-7 kg. What types of payloads, though, are required - just the kind that explode, or perhaps they should include cameras? All these choices involve tradeoffs in weight, capability, and, of course, price.



The latest thermobaric weapons may be considered a partial answer to the problems of weapons in an urban environment, particularly in terms of firepower. It is interesting to note that the US is just now fielding thermobaric warheads for the Hellfire II missile. Here is an excerpt from an article on eDefense Online by Brendan Rivers on the US Army fielding thermobaric Hellfire missiles:


Lockheed Martin (Orlando, FL) announced on Aug. 23 that a thermobaric version of its Hellfire II missile has been cleared for full-rate production for the US Army, particularly for use in ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Following the successful completion of a production-readiness review by a government-industry team of the thermobaric warhead, the US Army awarded Lockheed Martin a $90-million contract for the production of 900 AGM-114N thermobaric Hellfires, along with 180 AGM-114K high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) Hellfires. In addition, the contract calls upon the company to convert 100 existing HEAT missiles to the thermobaric version. Lockheed Martin is responsible for the missile bodies themselves and the integration of the thermobaric warheads, which are produced by Alliant Techsystems (Rocket Center, WV).

According to Mike Dowty, Lockheed Martin's Hellfire business-development manager, the thermobaric warhead works just like the other warhead variants of the semi-active laser-guided Hellfire II, with one difference: the explosive effects. The explosive material in the 27.5-lb. thermobaric warhead consists of a combination of traditional explosive, PBXN-112, and "energetic" material - in this case, a fluorinated-aluminum powder mixture. When the PBXN-112 detonates, the fluorinated-aluminum mixture disperses and burns rapidly, an effect that is extremely effective against enemy personnel.

This recent contract represents the first production buy of the thermobaric variant of the Hellfire, which was designed specifically for use against buildings and structures (whereas the AGM-114K was designed to engage heavy armor targets). According to a spokesman for the US Army Aviation and Missile Command (Redstone Arsenal, AL), experiences during current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq prompted the Army to request additional quantities of the new thermobaric missile to support those operations.

The thermobaric Hellfires can be employed on the Army's AH-64D Apache and OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, as well as US Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobras and US Navy SH-60B Seahawks.



The controversy about the use of thermobaric weapons is reminiscent of the white phosphorous flap of a couple of weeks back. The fact is, weapons evolve as lessons learned from previous engagements make their way into requirements and then into new weapons programs. Problem/solution. Old as war itself.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

1st Warsaw Armored Brigade – Polish Land Forces


On Thursday, 24 November 2005 I took my students on a tour to 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade in Wesola near Warsaw. It was my second visit in this unit after more than twelve years. And there was a good opportunity to sum up, what the Polish Land Forces did, since Poland joint Partnership for Peace program in Spring 1994. Now Poland is NATO member since almost seven years.
1st Warsaw Armored Brigade is a part of 1st Warsaw Mechanized Division from Legionowo. The parent division presently consists of the following units: 1st Warsaw Armored Brigade (Wesoła), 3rd Mechanized Brigade of the Legions (Lublin), 21st Brigade of the Podhale Riflemen (Rzeszow; mountain infantry unit), 1st Ciechanow Artillery Regiment (Ciechanow; 152 mm Dana howitzers, BM-21 Grad), 15th Goldap Anti-Aircraft Regiment (Goldap; armed with Kub /SA-6/), 1st Legionowo Commanding Battalion (Legionowo), 1st Siedlce Reconnaissance Battalion (Siedlce), 15th Masurian Combat Engineering Battalion (Orzysz), 1st Supply Battalion (Legionowo), 1st Medical Battalion (Legionowo), 1st Lomza Repair Battalion (Lomza).

In 1992 the unit (as a regiment) had only one tank battalion with
31 T-72M1. Photo Michal Fiszer

In 1992 when I was in the unit, it was 1st Warsaw Mechanized Regiment. It consisted of two mechanized infantry battalions, a tank battalion, an artillery battalion, anti-aircraft battery, anti-tank battery, a reconnaissance company, engineering company, supply company, maintenance company and medical company. The 1st Mechanized Regiment was the only Polish unit, which used BMP-2 combat infantry vehicles in the both battalions. At that time there were difficulties in procuring in Russia ammunition for 30 mm gun and 9M113 Konkurs missiles for the BMP-2 and the regiment also had a stock of BMP-1 armored infantry combat vehicles (AICVs) for mobilization. Totally there were 60 BMP-2 and the same number of BMP-1.

One of the unit's BMP-2, in 1994 sold to Mosambique.
Photo Michal Fiszer

The tank battalion had 31 T-72M1 tanks and the reconnaissance company had 10 BRDM-2 reconnaissance wheeled vehicles. Interestingly, the air defense battery was one of the few Polish units equipped with Strela-1M (SA-9) launchers (4 pieces), along with popular ZSU-23-4 Shilka (also four pieces). Additionally the battery had Strela-2 launchers. The anti-tank battery had 9 self-propelled launchers 9P133 with six 9M14 Malutka (AT-3) each. There were also 12 mortars of 120 mm caliber in the both infantry battalions along with some anti-tank weapons (RPG-7), a few Skot wheeled APCs in command and engineering versions, BLG assault bridges and some engineering equipment, along with trucks of various types. All the equipment, including radio-sets, were of Warsaw Pact standard and the unit still was trained in accordance to existing manuals. However since 1991 the attention in training was switched from attack operations to maneuver defense operations.

The 9P133 launcher used by the unit's anti-tank battery. Now the 1st Armored Brigade do not have anti-tank battery.
Photo Michal Fiszer

In 1994 the regiment was reformed into brigade. More or less at the same time the troublesome BMP-2 were sold to Mozambique and the brigade was formed as armored unit, with reversed proportion between infantry and tanks. Now two tank battalions were formed, and one of it was recently rearmed with PT-91 Twardy tanks, being a deep modernization of Soviet T-72M1. PT-91 has new digital fire-control system with atmospheric sensor, new passive thermal observation devices, up-rated engine and new reactive armor developed in Poland.

Below and above: PT-91 tank, one of the 40 tanks of the type used by the brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer


Now the brigade has 40 PT-91 Twardy tanks in the 1st Tank Battalion and 40 T-72M1 tanks in the 2nd Tank Battalion. The latter is not fully deployed unit and has to be mobilized in the case of war. All the tanks are equipped with NATO compatible communication equipment. In the future they will be also equipped with digitized command and control system. The single infantry battalion is now armed with 40 BMP-1s, being roughly the same as the vehicles used by the unit in 80s (before issue of BMP-2), only with new radios.

T-72M1 tanks, 40 of such tanks are still used by 2nd Tank Battalion of the Brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer

Now the BMP-1 AICVs seems to have inadequate armor protection and poor armament in the form of 73 mm grenade launcher and 9M14 Malutka anti-tank missile launcher. The brigade waits for wheeled Patria APCs, which are in license production in Poland under name of “Rosomak”. However 690 ordered vehicles are to be firstly issued to mechanized infantry unit and since some of the ordered vehicles are to be made in specialized version (so the procured number of APCs in basic version will be enough only for infantry brigades), the armored brigades will be left with tracked vehicles (still obsolete BMP-1s).

2S1 Gvozdika howitzer of 1st Armored Brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer


The artillery battalion still uses the same 12 self-propelled howitzers (2S1 Gvozdika, 122mm caliber) and the brigade also has 6 pieces of 120 mm mortars towed by trucks. The anti-tank battery was removed, typically for organization of armored brigade. The air defense battery lost its Strela-1, which were replaced by six ZUR-23-2. The latter are ZU-23-2 towed guns coupled with two Grom (Igla; SA-18) launchers attached to them. ZUR-23-2 are towed by trucks. The four ZSU-23-4 guns remained without changes. It is striking that the anti-tank and the air defense firepower of the brigade is inadequate. It is the case in most of the Polish land forces units. The brigades which will receive Rosomak APCs, will also receive NTD Spike anti-tank missiles. However the air defense still remains the problem. To add more, the divisional 15th Air Defense Regiment has four batteries of Kub (SA-6) with four launchers and a fire control radar in every battery, so the system is also getting obsolete. Basically the whole ground air defense in Polish Army is getting less and less effective, despite replacing old Strela-2 with Grom (Polish Igla-1 /SA=16/ produced on license, but modernized and similar to Igla system /SA-18/) and slow modernization of Kub systems, the air defense definitely needs some boost.

Above: Strela-1M used by 1st Mechanized Regiment in 1992, along with ZSU-23-4. Now the 1st Armored Brigade uses the same ZSU-23-4 and the ZUR-23-2 (below).
Both photos Michal Fiszer


1st Warsaw Armored Brigade still remains a homeland defense unit but is NATO compatible and can take a part in combat within NATO Combat echelon. It is the only heavy unit between Belarus and Warsaw and along with 3rd Mechanized Brigade would form the main defense of the area to the south-east from Polish capital in the case of armed aggression from the east. In front of it there will be two territorial defense brigades, the 2nd TD Brigade from Minsk Mazowiecki and 14th TD Brigade from Przemysl.
The concept of the homeland defense can be described as “wolves-hedgehogs-wasps” concept. Wolves bites, hedgehogs pricks and the wasps stings. The territorial defense brigades will form defense based on the urban areas (hedgehogs) and in rural areas they will delay the enemy advance by traps, hit and run attacks and other similar actions. The main forces of mechanized and armor units would form maneuver type of defense, massed on the main threat directions (wolves groups). And the special forces along with air force will attack the rear areas of the advancing forces (wasps). All the action is aimed as delay the enemy advance until the NATO reinforcement arrive and to inflict as much loses to the enemy as possible, to discourage the enemy for farther action.
But 1st Armored Brigade also has tasks related to the in-country crisis management, like disaster relief or maintain security in the case of domestic unrest. In the case of terrorist attack, the unit will provide troops for law enforcement and order maintaining tasks. The brigade has now more and more contract soldiers, however almost 900 soldiers out of 1500+ brigade personnel are still conscripts, serving now for only 9 months. Increasing number of contract soldiers (professional privates on 4-years contract) will allow to form all the PT-91 tank crews out of them since conscripts rather damage sophisticated equipment than operate it.

BLG Assault bridge. Three such units are in the brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer
Generally I think that there is much to do in Polish land forces. The best part are the deployable units, namely 6th Air Assault Brigade and the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade (airmobile, infantry transported by helicopters). They are light units, easy to deploy and prepared for foreign missions. The existing mechanized infantry brigades will all convert to “Rosomak” wheeled APCs and will form “medium” component of Polish land forces (like American Striker Combat Teams). They will be issued with modern equipment, like Spike anti-tank missiles, new command and control systems etc and will be of double destination – home defense and overseas operations. In the latter tasks, the medium brigades will be better prepared for more hostile environment than light infantry units. The armored brigades however will have to serve with only minor equipment modernizations for some years to come. Only the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade from Swietoszow is equipped with ex-German equipment, including Leopard 2A4 tanks and M113 APCs, and the unit is presently declared to NATO.

TRI engeeniring reconnaissance vehicle based on MTLB APC used by the 1st Armored Brigade.
Photo Michal Fiszer