An Analytical Perspective on the Competition Between Air Defense Systems and Guided Air-to-Ground Munitions

Dr. Feridun TAŞDAN - Western Illinois University

Date: Issue 100 - August 2020

Introduction:  Until today, conventional wars begin primarily in the air, and after the establishment of air superiority, the remaining stages of the war continue as the destruction of critical land and sea targets of the other side. According to the forecasts for the next 10-20 years, it will be extremely challenging to gain air superiority and to approach hostile targets protected by modern and integrated air defense systems using classical methods. New and improved systems are being developed that can intercept not only warplanes but also long-range cruise missiles and even short-range munitions such as JDAM before reaching their targets. For example, it has become possible to decrease the accuracy of JDAM-like bombs by jamming their GPS signals or destroy them mid-air with anti-aircraft guns using programmable air-burst smart rounds. To protect themselves and penetrate the enemy’s highly protected airspace, warplanes must have certain capabilities such as stealth, electronic support, jamming, data fusion, and effective command control. Likewise, long-range cruise missiles or short-range (around 15km) laser-guided smart munitions classified as Precision Guided Munitions (OGM), will have to operate in much more challenging conditions now. Because thanks to the advancements in sensor and missile technologies, different air defense systems (low, medium, and high altitude) under the management of modern and integrated command control systems with a high hit probability, can now engage various types of air threats more effectively. 

During the 1990 Gulf War and then the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) used approximately 1.5 Precision Guided (Smart) Munitions per target, considering that the probability of PGMs reaching their target is over 95%. On the other hand, if we look at the sortie to target ratio in World War II, approximately 1,000 bombers and 9,000 unguided (dumb) bombs were used to kill a ground target. During the Vietnam War in the 1970s, about 30 sorties and 176 unguided bombs had to be used for each target. By the 1990s, the GBU-10/12 series Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) started to be widely used, thus allowing one munition/sortie to be used against one ground target. Today, in parallel with the advancements in GPS and other guidance technologies, 80 different bombs can be used against 80 different ground targets in a single sortie by the B-2 or other bomber aircraft of the U.S. Air Force. But what about the situation in 2020 and beyond? How long will short or long-range smart bombs, which use several different guidance techniques and are much more developed than in the 2000s, be able to maintain their dominant effects on targets? The answer is that combat technologies are not developed on a single axis, and similar advancements can now be observed in air defense systems and other passive interception systems.