The debris found after recent bombing attacks on two Ukrainian cities suggests Russia is running out of air-launched missiles and fears getting too close to western air defense systems.
Russian FAB-500M-62 bomb fitted with pop-out wings.Photo: Telegram
The above photograph, which first appeared on the pro-Russian Fighterbomber Telegram channel on Jan. 4, had technical experts both scratching their heads and mocking the apparent “Heath Robinson” nature of the attached wings– was it real or just a mock-up?
The photo shows a “FAB-500M-62” 500-kilogram general-purpose air-dropped bomb, suspended below a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter/bomber, to which a kit had been attached that seems to have pop-out wings.
It is known that Russia has been working on, what has been described as an analog of the U.S. Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) system, for some time. The JDAM is extremely sophisticated (and comparatively expensive). It converts a dumb bomb into a "smart", all-weather munition that contains an inertial navigational system and a global positioning system guidance control unit which gives an accuracy of 5 meters over a range of around 25-30 kilometers.
This Russian equipment seems much cruder than that and, although investigation has yet to confirm whether or not it uses GPS or the Russian GLONASS Global Navigation Satellite System to provide guidance, it seems likely to be a local, expedient short-term solution to avoid the threat to its aircraft from Ukrainian air defenses. Its range has still not been identified.
At the time the photograph appeared, there were no clear indications as to whether or not the modified weapon was guided or whether the wing kit was “dumb” and only designed to extend the range of the bomb (effectively making it a glider) to allow pilots to avoid Ukrainian air defenses.
The questions may soon be answered, as debris from what appears to be the same combination of weaponry was found after a bombing raid in Donetsk on Mar. 12 and, further away an unexploded bomb and a damaged, but intact, wing module was recovered in the Kuibyshevsky district. Similar wreckage was recovered after another air attack in the Sumy region on Mar. 24.
The recovered items will be the subject of a technical investigation to find out more about the exact make-up and capabilities of the equipment. If it is found to incorporate a guidance system then counter-measures will have to be designed – the most obvious being to shoot down the aircraft delivering the weapon. This could be used as another lever for Ukraine’s demands for western fighter aircraft.
Without guidance systems, winged bombs, such as this, would lack accuracy but could be used against area targets in Ukrainian cities. As Russia has already proven it is quite happy to attack the civilian population with no regard for casualties or collateral damage
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