March 11, 2023:
In February 2023 Russia began using its limited supply of 1.5 ton UPAB-1500V GLONASS satellite guided bombs against Ukrainian targets. Those are delivered by aircraft flying at high (14 kilometers/45,000 feet) altitude and can glide up to 50 kilometers to land within ten meters of their targets. The one ton warhead is built to penetrate concrete and explode inside fortifications. Russia has developed dozens of smart (guided) bombs since the 1980s but none were produced in large quantities, like the more than 300,000 American JDAM guidance kits produced so far. There aren’t many UPAB-1500Vs available and now seems a good time to put them to work trying to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure. One attack failed when the Su-34 carrying the bomb was shot down by Ukrainian air defenses. The Su-34’s wreckage had the largely intact unexploded UPAB-1500V still attached. This confirmed that this bomb was being used against Ukrainian targets. When a UPAB-1500V detonates it leaves behind many fragments that have to be collected before the bomb can be identified.
Russia has not used a lot of guided bombs in combat because there are not many to use and not all Russian warplanes are equipped to use them. Some were used in Syria after Russian forces arrived in 2015, but not for long because Russian could not afford to maintain large stockpiles of guided bombs. Russia did not develop anything like JDAM kits until recently and they have only been used in small quantities. Russia still has a lot of different models of guided bombs with integral guidance systems.
The Americans first developed guided bomb technology at the end of World War II. That was crude and abandoned after the war. It wasn’t until in the 1970s that the use of laser-guided bombs was possible. These saw action at the end of the Vietnam War. Once GPS became available in the early 1990s, anyone with a GPS receiver could use it and after that the U.S. and most Western nations used nothing but guided bombs.
UPAB-1500V uses GLONASS, the Russian satellite navigation network, rather than the American GPS. While GLONASS has been reliably operational for most of the last decade, that may not last because of Western economic sanctions against Russia. GLONASS consumes more than a third of the Russian (Roscosmos agency) budget. Most GLONASS receivers in use are still combined GPS/GLONASS receivers. Russian military pilots have long been using portable GPS receivers in their cockpits because they noted American pilots doing it in the 1990s before GPS was built into all American warplanes. Russia wanted its aircraft to use GLONASS but, without much publicity, was quick to copy the American GPS system even before the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. This became another problem because the government had been trying for decades to create a Russian version of GPS and found that creating and maintaining such a system was expensive and, whenever the Russians have economic problems, GLONASS no longer is guaranteed to get the money needed to keep the system operational. GPS service has never been denied to anyone because users are consumer or commercial, not military. Russia jams GPS signals around critical military and government facilities in Russia and has tried to do so in Ukraine. Jamming-resistant tech has been developed for military use. This tech is installed in guided bombs as well as military aircraft, ships and ground vehicles.