U.S. adds new laser-capable JDAM bombs to its quiver

  • World
  • Friday, 25 Apr 2008

MYT 2:46:34 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Boeing Co says it is making "smart" bombs even smarter, able to go after moving targets in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The company said last week it started shipping new laser seeker add-ons designed to use laser energy reflected from a target to guide a bomb to what is supposed to be a pinpoint hit, even as the target moves.

The first so-called Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition, or LJDAM, kits were delivered to the Air Force under a $28 million contract for 600 kits awarded in May 2007.

The upgrade adds a relatively low-cost laser sensor to the nose of a JDAM-equipped bomb, a mainstay weapon of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the Pentagon's No. 2 supplier by sales.

Test drops from F-15E and F-16 aircraft have shown laser-equipped JDAM bombs can engage and destroy targets moving at up to 70 miles per hour (110 km per hour), Boeing said.

The basic JDAM tail kit turns free-falling bombs into what the military calls precision-guided smart bombs.

Guided by a built-in inertial guidance system, paired with the Global Positioning System, JDAM-equipped bombs usually fall within 10 feet of the target coordinates, according to Steve Wingfield, JDAM business development manager for Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems business unit.

A JDAM-equipped 500-pound (225 kg) GBU-38 was one of two bombs dropped by an F-16C fighter on a mujahideen safe house near Baquba, Iraq, on June 7, 2006, killing the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Adding the laser sensor to the mix gives the bomb the ability to go after moving targets that have been designated with a laser beam by ground forces or by special pods on an overhead aircraft, as well as to go after fixed targets.

"It makes sense," said Ivan Oelrich, a weapons expert at the private Federation of American Scientists. "GPS guidance is clearly superior for fixed targets but it does not allow you to hit moving targets."

Laser-guided bombs are not new, dating back to the U.S. war in Indochina. What is new is adding a laser seeker to the precision-guidance systems already built into the basic JDAM kit that Boeing began producing in 1998.

The laser-capable JDAM bomb first homes in on coordinates using its GPS-aided guidance system. Then the laser sensor kicks in, continuously updating the coordinates as it zeros in for a kill, said Tim Deaton, a spokesman for Boeing's Global Strike Systems unit.

More than 190,000 regular JDAM kits have been shipped to date, Boeing says. Among the buyers have been Australia, Chile, Denmark, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and South Korea. On Jan. 14, the Pentagon notified Congress of tentative plans to sell up to 900 JDAM tail kits to Saudi Arabia in a package possibly worth as much as $123 million.

Under the maiden contract with Boeing, the Air Force and Navy are to add a combined total of 600 laser sensors to existing 500-pound, JDAM-equipped bombs.

The laser-capable JDAMs are expected to enter operation this year with both the Air Force and the Navy, said Deaton.

JDAM kits typically cost less than $25,000 apiece. Boeing did not say how much the laser sensor would add, but has termed the ensemble one of the "most mission-flexible, low-cost weapons available in the world today."

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