Tag Archives: precision weapons

Smart War: find and kill

[T] he Global Positioning System (GPS) of orbiting satellites on which they rely was originally—and, indeed, remains—a military technology. The system is, for instance, relied upon by the JDAM (joint direct-attack munition) kits that America’s air force attaches to its free-fall bombs to turn them into smart weapons that can be guided with precision to their targets.

But JDAM and similar systems work only when they can receive signals from GPS satellites. And such signals are weak—approximately as powerful as a standard television transmission would be if the transmitter were five times as far away as the Moon is. They are thus easily jammed. For obvious reasons, details of the capabilities of jammers are hard to come by, but a Russian system called Pole-21, for instance, may be able to suppress GPS signals as much as 80km (50 miles) away.

One way to get around this—and to guide weapons automatically to their targets without relying on satellites—is to give weapons a map…. Israel is in the forefront, with a system which it calls Spice. Like JDAM, Spice is an add-on kit that turns unguided bombs into smart ones. It is designed and built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, an Israeli weapons company, and comes into service this month.

Spice contains an “electro-optical scene matching system” … [I]ts memory is loaded with pictures of the target area, taken beforehand by aircraft (piloted or unpiloted) or by satellite. …Spice can operate in darkness, and can penetrate smoke and fog. Moreover..Spice stores enough data to cover the entire route to a target.

Spice’s claimed performance is impressive. Rafael says it can guide a bomb released 100km from a target to a strike point within two metres of that target. The firm says, too, that its device is not confused by minor changes in the scenery around a target, which it can find even if some nearby areas have been obscured—say, by camouflage. Spice also has the advantage over GPS-guided weapons of working when a target’s exact position is unknown, or if the co-ordinates have been misreported. All you need is a picture of what is to be hit, and an approximate location, for Spice to find and hit it.

Other countries, in particular America, are following Israel’s lead. In January of this year, America’s air force signed a contract with Scientific Systems, a firm in Woburn, Massachusetts, to develop what that company calls its Image-Based Navigation and Precision Targeting (ImageNav) system….The initial plan is to fit ImageNav to the air force’s Small Diameter Bomb, a free-fall weapon at present guided by GPS. If this is successful, deployment on cruise missiles and drones will follow.

Meanwhile Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest aerospace firm, is working on an optical-navigation system called Northstar.

Fitting bombs and missiles with vision in this way thus looks like the future. That does not mean GPS will not be used as well—a belt-and-braces approach is often wise in war. But bombs that can see their targets, rather than blindly following their noses to a set of co-ordinates, are always likely to have the edge.

Excerpts Bombs that can recognise their targets are back in fashion, Economist, Dec. 3, 2016

A Barbed Wire for Outer Space

In 2007 a missile launch by the Chinese in 2007 blew up a dead satellite and littered space with thousands of pieces of debris. But it was another Chinese launch  in 2013 that made the Pentagon really snap to attention, opening up the possibility that outer space would become a new front in modern warfare.  This time, the rocket reached close to a far more distant orbit — one that’s more than 22,000 miles away — and just happens to be where the United States parks its most sensitive national security satellites, used for tasks such as guiding precision bombs and spying on adversaries.

The flyby served as a wake-up call and prompted the Defense Department and intelligence agencies to begin spending billions of dollars to protect what Air Force Gen. John Hyten in an interview called the “most valuable real estate in space.”..[I]nstead of relying only on large and expensive systems, defense officials plan to send swarms of small satellites into orbit that are much more difficult to target–GPS III is the next generation of GPS satellites..

At the same time..[a]gencies have begun participating in war-game scenarios involving space combat at the recently activated Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center. The Pentagon is even developing what is known as the “Space Fence,” which would allow it to better track debris in space.

National security officials are not only concerned that missiles could take out their satellites but also that a craft’s equipment could be easily jammed. Potential enemies could “dazzle” sensors, temporarily blinding them, or deploy tiny “parasitic satellites” that attach to host satellites and do their worst. That could lead to soldiers stranded on the battlefield with little means of communication or missiles that would not be able to find their targets.  “We have considered space a sanctuary for quite some time. And therefore a lot of our systems are big, expensive, enormously capable, but enormously vulnerable,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work.

Pentagon officials say that Russia and China have been developing the capability to attack the United States in space…Pentagon officials fear its satellites could be sitting ducks. Navy Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said recently that North Korea has successfully jammed GPS satellites, that Iran was busy building a space program and that “violent extremist organizations” were able to access space-based technologies to help them encrypt communications, among other things.

The Pentagon spends $22 billion on space programs and is investing an additional $5 billion in space efforts this year, including $2 billion for what is known as “space control,” which includes its highly classified offensive programs. Hyten declined to discuss the ways in which the United States is preparing to attack other countries in space. But the United States has had the capability to blow up satellites since 1985, when an F-15 fighter pilot fired a missile into space that took out an old military observation satellite.

Excerpts from  Christian Davenport: A fight to protect ‘the most valuable real estate in space, Washington Post, May 9, 2016

The B-3 Nuclear Capable Bomber

The US Air Force wants to to build a new long-range strike bomber. The B-3, as it is likely to be named, will be a nuclear-capable aircraft designed to penetrate the most sophisticated air defences. The contract [that would be signed by the  US Air Force and  a weapons company] itself will be worth $50 billion-plus in revenues to the successful bidder, and there will be many billions of dollars more for work on design, support and upgrades. The plan is to build at least 80-100 of the planes at a cost of more than $550m each.

The stakes could not be higher for at least two of the three industrial heavyweights… On one side is a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin; on the other, Northrop Grumman. The result could lead to a shake-out in the defence industry, with one of the competitors having to give up making combat aircraft for good.  After the B-3 contract is awarded, the next big deal for combat planes—for a sixth-generation “air-dominance fighter” to replace the F-22 and F-18 Super Hornet—will be more than a decade away. So Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group, an aviation-consulting firm, believes it will be hard for the loser to stay in the combat-aircraft business. ..

Usually in a contest of this kind, particularly this close to its end, a clear favourite emerges. Industry-watchers rate this one as still too close to call. That is partly because the degree of secrecy surrounding what is still classified as a “black programme” has remained high. Only the rough outlines of the aircraft’s specification have been revealed. It will be stealthy, subsonic, have a range of around 6,000 miles (9,650km) and be able to carry a big enough payload to destroy many targets during a single sortie. …

The target for the plane to come into operation is the mid-2020s—if possible, even earlier. In part this is because of fast-emerging new threats and in part because the average age of America’s current bomber fleet, consisting of 76 geriatric B-52s, 63 B-1s and 20 B-2s, is 38 years. Keeping such ancient aircraft flying in the face of metal fatigue and corrosion is a constant struggle: just 120 are deemed mission-ready. None of these, except the B-2s, can penetrate first-rate air defences without carrying cruise missiles—and the missiles are of little use against mobile targets.

In the kind of one-sided wars that America and its allies fought in the years after the September 11th 2001 attacks, such deficiencies were not a problem. But during that period China, in particular, has invested heavily in “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) capabilities. These include thousands of precision-guided missiles of increasing range that could threaten America’s bases in the Western Pacific, and any carriers sailing close enough to shore to launch their short-range tactical aircraft….A new long-range bomber that can penetrate the most advanced air defences is thus seen as vital in preserving America’s unique ability to project power anywhere in the world.

Excerpts from Military aircraft: Battle joined, Economist, May 2, 2015, at 55.