The Pentagon plans to allocate a larger share of its precision-weapons spending
to three programs—the joint direct attack munition, the small diameter
bomb and the joint air-to-surface stand-off missile, Defense Department officials
The JDAM—produced by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, headquartered
in St. Louis—is a relatively low-cost kit that converts existing, unguided,
free-fall bombs into accurately guided “smart” weapons.
The kit adds a new tail section to existing inventories of 500-pound, 1,000-pound
and 2,000-pound bombs. The tail section contains a mission computer, inertial
measurement unit, global-positioning system receiver and battery-operated actuators
to control the moveable fins. This guidance system allows a JDAM to be launched
up to 15 miles from the target in virtually any weather and strike within three
meters of its intended target.
Weather is an important factor, said Steven F. Butler, director of the Air
Force Air Armament Center, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. In Desert Storm, cloudy
weather often forced allied aircraft to fly below the clouds to drop their bombs,
making them more vulnerable to enemy air defenses, he told a symposium sponsored
by the Precision Strike Association in Laurel, Md.
Several JDAMs can be loaded on a single aircraft and each aimed at different
targets. In 2002 tests at China Lake, Calif., an Air Force F-15E fighter launched
five 2,000-pound JDAMs, successfully attacking five separate targets.
In addition to the F-15E, JDAMs can be dropped from a wide range of long-range
bombers and fighters flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
For the military services, one of the JDAMs’ most attractive features
is its relative low price. Before production began in 1998, the government estimated
that the kits would cost approximately $40,000 apiece. Boeing delivered the
weapon for much less than half that amount, according to company spokesman Denny
As a result, Pentagon officials have been quite pleased. “JDAM is absolutely
magnificent,” Edward C. (Pete) Aldridge Jr., undersecretary of defense
for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters.
During NATO’s 1999 Kosovo operation, Boeing doubled JDAM production to
meet the needs of allied forces, completing more than 1,000 kits per month.
As the war on terror got underway, JDAM production stepped up again. In September
of 2002, Boeing was awarded a $378 million contract for an additional 18,840
kits. By August of this year, the company expects to be producing JDAMs at a
rate of 2,800 per month, requiring it to expand its production facility in St.
“The next generation [of precision-guided munitions] is going to be the
small-diameter bomb,” Aldridge said. The small-diameter bomb, a 250-pound
variant of the JDAM, is still under development.
Immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, two companies—Boeing and
Dallas-based Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control—received $47 million,
two-year competitive contracts to develop designs for the bomb and carriage
system. When the two-year awards expire later this year, the Air Force plans
to select one contractor to continue with development, testing and production.
The reduced size of the small-diameter bomb (SDB)—half that of the smallest
JDAM—will enable U.S. warplanes to carry many more munitions and, because
of precision-guidance, still be deadly, Butler said.
SDBs “can nick the target to death,” he explained. “A building
may succumb better to eight small weapons, rather than one large one.”
Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf, director for Air Force operational requirements,
agreed. “Don’t be fooled by the word ‘small,’”
he told the PSA gathering. “A small package can contain a lot of destructive
power. The small diameter bomb is a great weapon.”
The joint air-to-surface standoff missile, or JASSM, is designed for bigger
jobs. Lockheed won a $3 billion contract back in 1996 to develop this 2,000-pound
weapon for the Air Force and Navy.
The services plan to deploy JASSM on B-1, B-2, B-52, F-16 and F/A-18 aircraft.
The weapon can fly more than 200 miles from its aircraft to its target. This
standoff range helps keep aircrews out of danger from hostile air defense systems.
In December of 2001, the Defense Department approved low-rate initial production
for the JASSM. The following month, the Air Force ordered 76 JASSMs and 84 anti-jam
global-positioning system receivers, worth $33.6 million, to be delivered between
2003 and 2004.
Beyond the JDAM, SDB and JASSM, other promising precision-guided munitions
are under development, officials said.
For example, the low cost autonomous attack system—LOCAAS—“is
a light-weight cruise missile, sitting on the shelf waiting for people to figure
out how to use it,” Butler said.
The Air Force in 1998 awarded a three-year $33 million contract to Lockheed
Martin for development of a prototype of the system.
LOCAAS is a 100-pound munition powered by a 30-pound turbojet engine, giving
it a range of 100 nautical miles. It is designed to hit moving targets, such
as armored vehicles, as well as hardened aircraft shelters, bunkers, power plants
and naval ships in port.
LOCAAS can be launched from F-16, F-22, Joint Strike Fighter, B-1 and B-2 aircraft.
It also can be released from missiles launched by ground-based weapons, such
as the multiple launch rocket system or the Army tactical missile system. With
a length of three feet, it is small enough to fit inside an aircraft’s
internal weapons bay, but it can also be carried externally on a munition ejector
rack or external pylons.
LOCAAS uses a laser detection and ranging (LADAR) seeker to take aim at targets,
employing automatic target recognition algorithms.
In 2002, the system passed its first flight test at Eglin Air Force Base. Launched
from a test aircraft flying at 200 knots at an altitude of 1,500 feet, the LOCAAS
demonstrated an ability to fly a programmed flight path and perform high bank
turns, while maintaining aerodynamic stability, according to Col. Thomas Masiello,
chief of Air Force Research Laboratories—Munitions at Eglin.
“LOCAAS provides a unique capability to loiter over the battlefield and
take out targets,” he said in a statement. “The warfighter will
load in a flight plan, and LOCAAS will take out any planned targets that appear
in the predetermined area.”
Flight tests are planned through fiscal year 2003, culminating in an autonomous
flight with active seeker and warhead against a real target.
In November, Raytheon Missile Systems, of Tucson, Ariz., finished its portion
of flight tests for the Tactical Tomahawk, the latest version of the cruise
missile launched by the Navy submarines and surface ships in every conflict
since Desert Storm. During the test, the missile rose from a fixed, underwater
launcher, broached the ocean surface, cruised 780 miles and hit its target,
Next, the Tactical Tomahawk must pass evaluations by the Navy. If it does so,
it is scheduled to reach the fleet in 2004.
Unlike current versions, the Tactical Tomahawk can be reprogrammed while in
flight to strike any of 15 preprogrammed alternate targets or to redirected
to any Global Positioning System targeting coordinates. It also will be able
to loiter over a target area for hours. An on-board camera will allow commanders
to assess battle damage of the target and, if necessary, redirect the missile
to another site.
The services also are adapting unmanned aerial vehicles for precision weapons.
The Air Force plans to complete testing of its X-45A unmanned combat air vehicle
by this fall.
The service already has fired Hellfire missiles from its Predator UAV, made
by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, of San Diego. In fact, the CIA has
used armed Predators in the war on terror, hitting targets in Afghanistan and
Yemen. In Yemen, a Predator-launched Hellfire struck a sports utility vehicle,
killing six men, including a suspected ringleader in the 2000 attack against
the USS Cole.
A new version of the UAV, Predator B, will be able to carry 50 percent more
payload and operate at altitudes of 45,000 feet, almost twice as high. “It
will be able to carry almost anything in the traditional Air Force armory,”
For all of the increased accuracy, however, precision-guided weapons sometimes
still hit the wrong targets. Several times in Afghanistan, U.S. servicemen,
allies or civilians were killed or injured when munitions landed too close to
Sometimes, accidents happen when ground troops or aircrews use the wrong attack
coordinates, Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeam told reporters.
Other times, during intense fighting, U.S. troops employ a dangerous tactic—calling
for air strikes on enemy forces close to their own positions. That “takes
very fine control and coordination and precision,” Stufflebeam said.
Occasionally, U.S. troops mistake friendly forces or civilians for the enemy.
Once, for example, U.S. aircraft attacked an Afghan village where a crowd of
people seemed to be firing at them. Dozens of villagers died. Later, it was
alleged that the crowd was not hostile. Instead, they were said to be attending
a wedding feast and celebrating, in traditional fashion, by firing their personal
weapons into the air.
In April 2002, the pilot and co-pilot of a U.S. Air National Guard F-16 mistook
a Canadian infantry unit that was conducting live-fire training for an al Qaeda
or Taliban force. From a height of 20,000 feet, the U.S. aircrew dropped a 500-pound,
laser-guided bomb, killing four Canadians and wounding eight others. The four
were the first combat-related deaths for Canada’s armed services in 50
An Air Force hearing is considering accusations that the two U.S. pilots failed
to follow proper procedures. They could be charged with involuntary manslaughter,
aggravated assault and dereliction of duty. If convicted, they could be sentenced
to 64 years in prison.
Upon rare occasion, the guidance systems in some precision weapons fail, Gordon
R. England—who was Navy Secretary at the time—told the PSA meeting.
“They can go awry by 10 miles,” he said.
Despite such mishaps, the role of precision weaponry in warfare is still growing.
“In Desert Storm, 10 percent of the munitions expended by naval forces
were precision-guided,” said Rear Adm. John V. Chenevey, the Navy’s
program executive officer for strike weapons and unmanned aviation. “In
Kosovo, 70 percent were precision-guided, and in Operation Enduring Freedom,
90 percent were precision-guided,” he told the PSA conference.
The Air Force reported a similar experience. Nearly 75 percent of the more
than 8,500 tons of weapons that it dropped during the early months of Afghanistan
were precision-guided, Air Force Secretary James G. Roche said in a speech to
the New York City Investors Group.
The result has been a dramatic reduction in the number of sorties—operational
flights by military aircraft—needed to hit a single target. During World
War II, “it took thousands of sorties to hit a single target,” Roche
said. With precision guidance, he noted, it takes only one or two.
“The trend is clear,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told
a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “The era of smart platforms
and dumb munitions is over. Increasingly, the munitions that all U.S. forces—air,
sea and ground forces—employ will need to be precision-guided.”
But it is important to note, warned England—who is now deputy secretary
for homeland security—that U.S. forces “do not have a monopoly on
precision,” he said. “The 9/11 terrorists were very precise. On
Bali, they were very precise. You don’t have to be high-tech to be precise.”