Ukraine getting "Frankenstein" missiles?

Western companies are creating a "new" missile - jet engines are mounted on small-diameter missiles, which increases the range. Such a missile would be deadly, and far cheaper than modern ones. How much can it help Ukraine on the front?

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Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate
Missile testing, Photo: Printscreen/Youtube
Missile testing, Photo: Printscreen/Youtube

The USA is sending Ukraine a new weapon - GLSDB (Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb). It is a combination of the GBU-39 small diameter bomb and the rocket engine of the M26 rocket.

Those missiles were withdrawn from use in the USA and European countries after the adoption of the Oslo Convention in 2008, which refers to the ban on the use of cluster bombs. However, their engines were retained.

The American company Boeing and the Swedish company Sab proposed that these engines be used for the improvement of small-diameter bombs. Several countries, including the US and Norway, have such bombs.

According to data from the website of the US Office for Operational Tests and Evaluation, the bomb is launched only from an aircraft, after which it opens its wings for autonomous flight. In addition, it is able to change the direction of movement and attack targets even behind the aircraft.

The latest version of the SDB is equipped with a combined guidance system: a navigation system, which is mainly used to overcome areas where satellite signals are weak, then GPS, as well as millimeter wave radar, with infrared and laser sensors.

Thanks to laser guidance, the bomb can hit moving targets, says Sab. According to Boeing, the range of the SDB is 110 kilometers, and the weight of the warhead is 93 kilograms, which means that it can penetrate reinforced concrete almost one meter thick.

Cheaper projectiles for rocket launchers

The GLSDB, which is launched from the ground, has all these characteristics, but the combination with a jet engine increases the range of the weapon to 150 kilometers.

According to Sabo, the GLSDB can also hit targets with an error of only one meter. Multi-barrel rocket launchers of the M270, HIMARS and Chunmu systems are suitable for firing GLSDB.

Ukraine already has M270 and HIMARS systems. "Therefore, Ukraine does not need to train personnel and does not need the delivery of additional such systems," Mykhailo Samus, a Ukrainian expert from the Kyiv Center for Military Studies, told DW.

He notes that the GLSDB is a cheaper missile for Western rocket launchers. "After all, nothing needs to be manufactured, you just need to assemble the two parts - the engine and the bomb - and improve the guidance systems. The price of SDB is about 40.000 dollars. Engines are in stock. On the other hand, short-range ATACMS missiles cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," Samus points out.

As stated on the Saba website, around 2006 SDBs have been produced since 20.000.

Use of GLSDB in combat conditions

GLSDB is something new. The first tests were conducted by Boeing and Sab in 2015. And Ukraine is the first country where this bomb will be used in combat conditions.

The US Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, confirmed in Kiev at the end of January that such bombs are already being delivered to the Ukrainian army at the front. She said that Putin will have "surprises" on the battlefield and that "Ukraine will achieve some very big successes this year."

The armed forces of Ukraine originally expected to receive the GLSDB much earlier, after the US announced deliveries as early as February 2023. The plan was to arrive in Ukraine before the end of 2023.

"It took a long time for the bombs to be delivered. It's not only a question of money, but also of time needed to create the capacity to produce these bombs," Bradley Bowman, from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington, explains to DW. In addition, tests had to be carried out, which were ultimately successful.

A weapon to attack expensive equipment

Experts interviewed by DW are convinced that the GLSDB brings many advantages, as the bombs have twice the range of the ground systems that Ukraine currently has.

In the autumn of 2023, the Ukrainian army received the first ATACMS long-range missiles from the USA, which are also fired from M270 and HIMARS rocket launchers and have a range of up to 160 kilometers. But, according to experts, Ukraine received only a small number of these missiles.

"Other missiles for multi-barrel rocket launchers that Ukraine has can hit targets at about 80 kilometers. In reality, that range is smaller, because the systems have to be located further from the front line due to the threat from Russian drones," emphasizes Mihailo Samus.

According to him, Ukraine will therefore be able to use the GLSDB to attack more distant targets of the Russian occupiers. "We will cover northern Crimea, the Kherson region on the left bank of the Dnieper, the entire Zaporozhye region and the entire Donbas. This can change the situation on the front in favor of Ukraine," adds Samus.

American multi-barrel M270 rocket launcher

Attacks with GLSDBs far behind the front lines could make it difficult for the Russians to supply troops, says Bradley Bowman.

"I suspect that the Ukrainians will be interested in hitting command and control points and logistics centers to make command and control of troops more difficult," he notes.

At the same time, according to Bouman, armored personnel carriers, tanks and other military equipment at assembly points are also important targets.

Ukrainian military expert Petro Chernik believes that Russian equipment will be the main target of GLSDBs. "We need to look at the cost ratio. It's better to hit expensive equipment, and there are many such targets: anti-aircraft systems Tor-M2 and S-300, various armored vehicles, electronic warfare systems, some of which cost up to 200 million dollars," said Cernik in an interview with DW.

He emphasizes that Ukraine needs thousands of GLSDBs. "The Russian Federation has 2.800 tanks along the battle line alone. There are also about 7.000 armored vehicles, about 7.000 artillery pieces and hundreds of anti-aircraft systems," says the military expert.

There is no information on how many GLSDBs Ukraine will receive. Petro Černik assumes that initially it will be only a few dozen. "It's a small amount, until it's enough, but not much. For example, in November alone, the Russians used about 1.100 FAB-500 and FAB-250 guided heavy bombs," says Cernik.

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