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PGMs and battlefield

With the recent successful  test of 1000 kg glide bomb guided to its target with “great precision” a multi-disciplinary group of Defence Research and Development Organisation laboratories led by the rocket specialist Research Centre Imarat, Hyderabad, India has taken a giant leap in precision guided munitions. Rapid productionisation should help alleviate the shortages of tank and 155 mm howitzer shells in the Central Ordnance Depots. The glide is facilitated by fins front and back and a nosecone packed with sensitive navigation gear steers it accurately to target. The 100 km glide makes it a stand-off weapon that allows the bomber aircraft to stay out of reach of enemy air defences.

Distinguished Scientist and Director of RCI Dr G Satheesh Reddy underscored the point that the “country has now become self-reliant in the area of guided precision bombs”. To be able to achieve a “one round kill”, a great deal of work has been put into the project by the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), Bengaluru, Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune, the Chandigarh-based Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) with Research Centre Imarat (RCI) at Hyderabad as the nodal laboratory.
Laser guidance

This endeavor follows a successful project to convert “dumb” bombs into precision-guided munitions with the fitment of a laser guidance system. A “near miss” of ten meters was achieved and further refinements are underway to make the bomb explode closer than ten meters from target. Nonetheless, the explosion of a 1000-kg bomb even 10 meters from target could create a crater that would undercut the foundations of most static structures. It could cause concrete pillboxes to tilt in the direction of the crater caused by the explosion of a weapon of such weight thereby causing injuries to the occupants or changing the direction of its firing ports and thereby rendering them useless.

The arsenal of dumb bombs currently held in the Central Ordnance Depots range from 250 kg to 1000 kg weapons. The maintenance of a war wastage paradigm requires that several thousand of each type by weight of bomb because sometimes as many as a dozen bombs “on a stick” have to be released simultaneously to ensure that the target is effectively destroyed. In fact, not just the military target but also many civilian structures that lie on or near the periphery. Destruction is indiscriminate and hence the concept of “carpet bombing” as used during World War II.

Nowadays, collateral damage is considered “politically incorrect” and extraction of targets with one precise strike is considered a virtue on the modern battlefield. During the Gulf War the ability to send a cruise missile through the window of a target structure was touted as very commendable, however, the dependence on ambiguous intelligence can lead to disasters like the US bombing of Iraq where an underground structure was identified as shelter housing soldiers but turned out to contain children, several dozens of whom were killed by the precision guided munition.

The Hellfire missiles fired from the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle has earned both commendation and notoriety for “taking out” such notorious terrorists like Baitullah Mehsud while he was on the rooftop of his father-in-law’s house and causing large scale civilian damage in trying to get the current Al Qaeda No 1-Ayman al Zawahiri, respectively. This is to underscore the fact that good intelligence must precede a precision guided munition attack. Even during the discovery of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the US trackers were confronted with a choice between using a precision guided munition or to send in a team to make doubly sure that the Most Wanted terrorist was eliminated with no requirement of confirmation from other independent sources. If such confirmation was to be sought from the government of Pakistan it was highly unlikely it would have given such a confirmation that would have implicated it of hiding a man the US had been hounding from his haven in Kabul during the Taliban regime up to the caves of Tora Bora where they lost his spoor.
Greater destruction

Also, since dumb bombs are cheaper to manufacture than missiles the cost-benefit factor of converting an arsenal full of what are essentially outdated munitions is considerable. The upgradation and modernization of dumb munitions production line could include the pre-fragmentation of the shell so that the destruction through kinetic force would be greater because the pattern of destruction per shell can be predicted and controlled.     

In the general context of air power in the future battlefield, the efficiency with which munitions delivered from the air can decimate armored columns has been demonstrated time and again. However, with greater density and equally precise air defence guns and missiles the need to protect the manned bomber has attained such proportions that more and more nations that can afford it are turning to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to do what manned bombers used to accomplish with a great deal of area bombardment in the hope that one or two warheads would land on target.

The cost-effectiveness of the use of UAV is becoming more apparent by the day. The very recent case of the downing of a Jordanian air force F-16 aircraft (whether it is a technical crash or it was shot down by the ground based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is being hotly contested) has illustrated the political consequences of having a pilot taken prisoner. India has had to suffer the agony of having one of its fighter pilots falling into the hands of the Pakistan Army and being atrociously mutilated during the Kargil war.

Learning from the Kargil experience the Defence Research and Development Organisation has been working on creating UAVs capable of combat. A more recent twist has been added with work on creating miniaturized warheads capable of being carried on UACVs.   
On taking over as the new Director-General of DRDO in 2013 Dr Avinash Chander said that “in a couple of months” his organization would begin testing PGMs that are small enough to fit onto Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). As part of this miniaturization project the DRDO is working to close the gaps in developing advanced seekers, sensors and actuators that contribute to target acquisition and warhead guidance. The focus would also be on development of navigation and telemetry on chip. The foray into loitering weapons would require a high percentage of explosive and adequate avionics to deliver the payload to target.

Israel is a world leader in UAV technology and its long range radar and reconnaissance system (LORROS) is an indicator of its acknowledged technological knowhow in seekers and sensors that are so vital in the creation of precision guided munitions. Joint development with Israel of the Indo-Russian kind that created the redoubtable Brahmos family of supersonic missiles could lead to manufacture of PGMs which are fast becoming the new tools of warfare.