Procurement: Penetrators Over Pakistan

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July 16, 2019: In June India ordered another hundred Israeli SPICE (Stand-Off Precision Guidance Munition) 2000 smart bombs, for about $420,000 each. This seems to be the final confirmation that the SPICE 2000 bombs were successful when used for the February 26 Indian airstrike on (Balakot). The target was the main Islamic terrorist training site in Pakistani Kashmir. India used its Mirage 2000 fighter-bombers, carrying six SPICE bombs for the mission. Five of those bombs were launched and one bomb came back still on a Mirage 2000, apparently because the prelaunch diagnostic system indicated some possible equipment problem with that bomb. This is another safety measure built into the SPICE penetrator bombs to ensure that nothing goes wrong with an airstrike that puts a premium on avoiding casualties to civilians near the target.

An Israeli manufacturer developed this variation on the American JDAM in 2005. SPICE added a camera in the nose, and the capability to store several digital photos of the target (a building, radar antennae, or a moving target, like a missile transporter) in the bomb. When SPICE gets close enough to see what's down there, the guidance camera compares what it sees in front of it with what is stored in its memory. If it gets a match, it heads right for it. If no target can be found, SPICE hits a specific GPS location or just self-destructs. SPICE equipped bombs have small wings and can be dropped up to 100 kilometers from the target. For the penetrator version of SPICE the aircraft has to be closer and at a higher altitude.

SPICE costs about twice as much as JDAM kits and is similar to earlier (pre-JDAM), and much more expensive, U.S. smart bomb designs like Paveway. The latest version of SPICE has a much improved guidance sensor (camera) and computer and can store up to a hundred images of potential targets as well as instructions on what to hit when there are multiple choices. Many of these images are of the same target from different angles. India used the SPICE 2000 kit, which is built to be attached to a 906 kg (2,000 pound) dumb bomb. Currently, the only Indian aircraft equipped to handle SPICE are some of their Mirage 2000s. India recently announced that they are equipping some of their Russian Su-30MKI aircraft to handle SPICE.

Israel has used SPICE 2000 bombs against similar targets (multi-story brick or concrete buildings) and generally used the penetrator version of the bomb. This one has a hard metal (nickel-cobalt steel alloy) front end and a fuze that can count the number of levels the bomb penetrates before detonating a smaller quantity (80 kg/176 pounds) of explosives than the non-penetrator version carries. The penetrator is designed to destroy underground and above aboveground structures after penetrating at least three meters beneath the basement. This underground explosion produces an overpressure directed upwards into the intact building. That overpressure shockwave is strong enough to kill most people in the building but does not collapse the building or send debris flying outside the structure. Israel uses these bombs against concrete multistory buildings in Gaza. These structures are deliberately located in residential neighborhoods to discourage bomb strikes because if the target building is collapsed or blown up there will be casualties among nearby civilians. The SPICE penetrator can destroy the interior of such buildings, killing most of the inhabitants without causing much damage to surrounding buildings. India knew of these capabilities and targeted the main building at Balakot, which is used for training as well as housing for terrorism trainees and staff. It was later discovered that at least 35 bodies were taken away from the camp and quickly given funerals according to Islamic law. Many more badly wounded people were taken out of the camp. News of some of those funerals got out, further discrediting Pakistani claims that there was no damage to buildings or any casualties. Eventually, higher resolution photos of the main target showed three small holes in the roof where the SPICE bunker-buster bombs entered. Comparison with pre-strike satellite photos also shows that the roof of that building had shifted, which is what happens when the bunker busters penetrate into the ground beneath the building before detonating and creating the fatal overpressure and leaving the building intact (but wrecked on the inside).

Pakistan denies that the Indian airstrike had hit anything at Balakot and India initially refused to release its own satellite photos of the Balakot site. Soon commercial satellite photos were released that did not show any large craters at Balakot the day after but higher resolution commercial satellite photos were eventually available showing three craters (and blast damage to trees around them). The craters were in a pattern similar to three buildings at Balakot and this indicated the possibility that the Indians had not entered the altitude of the targets, just the GPS coordinates indicating location. For a smart bomb coming down vertically, the altitude of targets rarely matters. But since Balakot was above sea level and the SPICE 2000 bombs were gliding in from a distance all three appeared to have missed their targets in a manner suggesting SPICE was not using the pattern recognition feature of its guidance system, and was instead heading for a precise GPS location at sea level and thus glided over the targets. That tuned out to be an erroneous conclusion.

India revealed that the Mirage 2000 aircraft only crossed eight kilometers into Pakistan, at high altitude before releasing the bombs. The Indians could have released non-penetrator SPICE bombs from the Indian side of the border and allowed them to glide 60 kilometers to the target. But by releasing them from within Pakistan the SPICE bombs would be able to come straight down onto the target, which the SPICE bunker busters are designed to do. The later satellite photos showed evidence of penetrator bombs, not the non-penetrator type which carries over five times as much explosives and depends on blast to blow structures apart.

Pakistan typically seeks to belittle Indian military attacks, if only because Pakistan has lost every war they have fought against India and established the “sponsored Islamic terrorist” program in the 1980s to carry out successful attacks against India with more success and some deniability. But India has compiled considerable evidence of the Pakistani use of Islamic terrorists based in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir. These bases trained Pakistani and Indian Moslems in terrorism techniques then loses many of them as they are sent to cross a heavily guarded (with patrols, sensors and troops equipped with night vision gear) border. Some of these Pakistanis do make it across and are later taken, usually dead but sometimes alive and much has been learned about how these Islamic terrorists are recruited and trained. The training camps in Pakistan are guarded by Pakistani troops who only allow authorized personnel in. Satellite photos show the camps, despite Pakistani denials, and Balakot is one of the largest and most heavily fortified against air attack. Balakot’s precise GPS location was known as well as its altitude. India knew this as well as the characteristics of the penetrator version of SPICE bombs and the considerable capabilities of the SPICE target recognition system and the capabilities of the fuze used on the penetrator version of SPICE. Indian ordered more of these bombs in June because they have proof of that they can achieve against steel, concrete and brick structures Pakistan builds in its key terrorist training bases to protect staff and students against airstrikes.

 


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