During the Second World War, the people of the United Kingdom were forced to endure the infamous “Blitz,” the sustained campaign of aerial bombing attacks against British towns and cities that were carried out by the German Luftwaffe. Now more than 80 years later, a similar tactic is tragically being employed against the people of Ukraine.
Though Russia’s effort to plunge Ukraine into cold and darkness over the winter with mass missile strikes on energy infrastructure failed, the Kremlin has changed its brutal tactics and is now conducting strategic bomber attacks that are combined with strikes from cruise missiles and drones.
Old Ordnance – New Tactics
As The New York Times reported on Thursday, Russia is now using bombers and bombs – each dating to the Cold War.
Some of the Soviet-era bombs have been modified to glide long distances, which makes them almost impossible to shoot down. Though not exactly accurate, the bombs are still deadly; hitting targets indiscriminately. Lacking the propulsion systems of a cruise missile, the bombs are also only aloft for a little more than a minute, and that makes them much more difficult for Ukraine’s air defenses to track.
A Ukrainian official told the Paper of Record that the bombs appear as little dots on radar screens that disappear soon after being dropped. This is made worse by the fact that the Russian bombers can release the ordnance over Russian-controlled territory, where Ukrainian air defenses can’t often reach.
The bombs glide for 20 or more miles and then strike Ukrainian territory.
“This is the evolution of the air war,” explained Lt. Colonel Denys Smazhnyi of the Ukrainian Air Force. “They first tried cruise missiles, and we shot them down. Then they tried drones, and we shot those down. They are constantly looking for a solution to strike us, and we are looking for one to intercept them.”
Smazhnyi said it is an evolution of new weapons and tactics, followed by countermeasures, then further evolution and more countermeasures. “It’s a nonstop process, unfortunately.”
The matter is made worse as Moscow has sought to retrofit its bombs with satellite navigation systems. The Kremlin has thousands of Cold War ordnance in its arsenals.
The great irony is that these simple, and relatively low-cost bombs are proving harder to counter than more advanced weapons, such as the hypersonic Kinzhal missiles that Kyiv’s forces reportedly have successfully destroyed with the American-made Patriot air defense system.
Making Dumb Bombs Smart
It should be noted that Ukraine is also employing efforts to transform its stockpiles of Cold War ordnance. As previously reported in December, the United States was set to supply Kyiv with precision bomb kits that could be used to existing unguided munitions, or “dumb” bombs, into precision-guided “smart” bombs.
According to the United States Air Force, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a guidance tail kit that converts existing unguided free-fall bombs into accurate, adverse weather “smart” munitions. Moreover, with the addition of a new tail section that contains an inertial navigational system and a global positioning system guidance control unit, JDAM can greatly improve the accuracy of unguided, general-purpose bombs in any weather condition.
What is notable too is that the JDAMs could provide greater accuracy than Russia’s bombs.
After being released from an aircraft, the JDAM autonomously navigates to the designated target coordinates, which can be loaded onto the aircraft before takeoff or even manually altered by the crew before weapon release. In addition, the coordinates can be automatically entered through target designation with onboard aircraft sensors. In its most accurate mode, the JDAM system will provide a weapon circular error probable (CEP) of five meters or less during the free flight when GPS data is available. Even without GPS, the JDAM can be accurate to within 30 meters.
It was in late April that a video was shared on social media that captured the first use in Ukraine of a U.S.-made bomb equipped with the JDAM-ER kits. The short clip was reportedly filmed in Bakhmut, and four GBU-62s outfitted with the kits were dropped on a Russian ammunition storage depot and military staging area.
Clearly old bombs can be used in new ways to take lives in Ukraine.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.