August 31, 2007: The U.S. Air Force has begun
upgrades to 279 of its GBU-28 bombs, making their guidance systems harder to
defeat. In essence, the U.S. military's best bunker-buster will become even
was developed in less than a month during Operation Desert Storm in
1991, and two prototypes were dropped on a high-value target, destroying it. It
is based around a BLU-113 warhead, and can penetrate 100 feet of earth.
Originally designed to be dropped by the F-111, it is now primarily dropped
from F-15Es and B-2s. A GPS-guided version, the GAM-113 or GBU-37, is also in
So why is the Air Force upgrading the laser-guided
variant, which is an older (1970s) technology than GPS (from the 1990s)? The
answers are simple: It is more accurate than the GPS-guided munitions (which
have a circular error probable, or CEP, of 33 feet). Laser-guided bombs often
have a CEP measured in inches. The other reason is that the Air Force is able
to have more than one way to precisely hit targets. This is because each of the
systems that make precision-guided weapons work has its own set of strengths
Laser-guided weapons are best used in clear
weather, or when you need to exactly hit a smaller target - like dropping a
bomb down a bunker's ventilation shaft. The seeker locates the laser spot, and
a computer steers fins on the tail of the bomb to chase the spot - much like a
kitten chases the spot from a laser pointer. Only this chase ends with a boom.
There's a problem. Bad weather can make it hard to properly target a laser. Or,
you've bombed other stuff, and there's now a lot of smoke in the target zone.
All the sudden, the laser can't quite lock onto the targetâ€¦ and you end up
missing. Not by much, but it could be enough.
The GPS guidance has no problem. Instead of looking
for a spot from an aircraft or a ground team, the latitude and longitude
coordinates of the target are entered. The GPS system on the bomb takes the
bomb's present position, and then figures out how to get there - like a
navigation system in a cell phone or a car. The good news is that it works in
all weather. However, GPS jammers are being used - and that forces a GPS-guided
bomb to go to a backup inertial navigation system, which results in a 100-foot
CEP. If the target moves, then the GPS-guided bomb will miss as well.
Efforts have been made to combine the systems.
JDAMs are now receiving laser seekers that will give them a capability against
moving targets, and an accurate backup in case someone is trying to jam GPS.
The laser-guided bombs are being given GPS so that they will still impact close
to the target - when a 2,000-pound bomb goes off in a near-miss, it still can
do a lot of damage. In essence, the Air Force is starting to merge their
precision munitions, making it more likely that a time-sensitive target will be
hit before it is too late. - Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)