Laser guided bombs

Among the many lessons learnt by India from the Kargil intrusion by the Pakistan Army Northern Light Infantry in 1999 was one that it should not require the wasteful expenditure of more than 2,50,000 tons of steel over a period of more than two months to be able to dislodge/eliminate an entrenched enemy. The efficacy and necessity of precision guided munitions that deliver a warhead to within a meter of a target was brought home rather late in the conflict when laser guided bombs were acquired from Israel and fitted onto Mirage bombers and fired from standoff altitudes of more than six kms to avoid shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. An aircraft and one helicopter had already been shot down by the intruders using US Stinger missiles diverted from the Afghanistan war against Soviet occupation.

After outright purchases from Israel, the Defence Research and Development Organisation began experimenting with a conversion kit that helps turn the freefall dynamics of the dumb or iron bombs into a laser guided weapon. However, if the accuracy of the Indian Sudarshan 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb remains at 10 meters of circular error probability (CEP) there is room for improvement because at a distance of 10 meters (30 plus feet) it could shake things up but not demolish the intended target. It would still require the launch of three missiles to ensure a direct hit on the target.

The use of global positioning system (GPS)and satellite communications could help reduce the CEP to about one meter and  could serve the purpose nicely.


It is for this very reason of dispersal of effort in delivery of freefall weapons that the requirement for precision guided munitions arose. Nations at war had to use tons and tons of metal to demolish large portions of the industrial infrastructure of the enemy through carpet bombing brought to the fore the wasted effort. The ultimate, as demonstrated by US drone strikes against the terrorists operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan salient, is that just one or two missiles can achieve the desired result of ‘taking out’ the kingpins without having to ravage the whole locality.

Nonetheless, the issue of collateral damage still remains with the affected peoples calling it murder and the US charging that the targets were using ‘human shield’ tactics and hence the unnecessary collateral human fatalities.

India has realized the necessity of precision guided munitions and took immediate steps to rectify the situation by converting the most available, indigenous 1000lb freefall bomb into a guided weapon by installing a laser seeker in the nose with requisite control surfaces forward and to the rear for stability. The Indian ordnance factory-made bomb lends itself to this arrangement because it has openings both in the nose-cone as well as in the rear for compact plugging of the explosive material inside the bomb. India has two types of this weight of bomb and clearly to make a distinction between the two it used the British weight (pounds-lbs) to denote the simple freefall weapon and the metric measure (kilograms-kg) to designate the 450 kg (same weight as 1000 lbs) weapon.

The difference between the two is that the latter is more streamlined in its construction and lends itself to  a “ high speed, low drag” configuration that reduces friction and makes for a faster descent. This characteristic is necessary in a bomb required to first penetrate deep into the ground before exploding to create a large crater or dislodge concrete pillboxes and bunker by digging a hole on the outside. The penetration is effected by the force of the heavy metal accelerating at the rate of 32 ft per second every second. That is why it is dropped from a greater height so that the kinetic energy produced on impact with the ground helps in making deep penetration and adds to the total effect of the explosives within the bomb.

Indian ordnance factories produce two types of 1000lb (450 kg) dumb bombs along with one intended to be used for deep penetration on enemy runways and static defences  and the other for surgical strikes within the enclosed urban spaces.      


Apparently the user, the Indian Air Force, does not think that the high explosive Sudarshan laser guided bomb is powerful enough to execute the role of bunker buster and has floated a global tender in which the lowest bidder was the Lockheed Martin with its Paveway II laser guided bomb.  Several DRDO laboratories are collaborating in improving the performance of the Sudarshan laser guided bomb. For one, with a range of just 9 km the weapons leaves the launch aircraft vulnerable to medium range surface to air missiles. Work is underway at the Aeronautical Development Establishment to increase the range to to 50 km giving the aircraft a standoff capability.

A major setback to India’s laser guided bomb project, the US had cancelled the licence to supply linear actuators to India. Successive Scientific Advisers to the Minister of Defence have expressed confidence in the DRDO’s capability to create indigenous actuators to meet Indian demands. Hopefully, it does not take too long to fructify.

This is because India is seriously pursuing a unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) in which the payload must perforce be a precision guided munition. It could always be argued that India could buy the strike weapon from off the shelf but systems integration could delay the project.

The American action can hardly be considered a prudent act on the part of a “strategic partner” and the NDA government needs to be wary of promises of goodwill from Washington given that the government-to-government military sales route appears to be a one-way street given that there is to be no transfer of technology or production under licence of the several high value contracts that have hitherto been signed, for example, the Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Rescinding licences in mid-stride can hardly be described as a friendly act.
Even while upgrading the characteristics of the indigenous laser guided bomb, the Sudarshan, to make best use of long-laid production facilities for dumb bombs ballistic experts could ascertain the feasibility and advantages of building pre-fragmented shell for larger area destruction.

Every so often in the midst of the debate on precision guided munitions and their uses in Indian defence context one hears it being said that India too can take out its tormentors just as the US is doing in the Afghanistan-Pakistan salient or as in the case of Osama bin Laden or even against its own indigenous insurgents. It needs to be understood that the use of such tactics is an invitation to escalation of hostilities in an already volatile region. India has also religiously refrained from using air power against insurgency whether in the North-East or against the Left Wing Extremist groups. They are, after all, India’s own people.

India needs to acquire the laser guided bomb capability for punitive use against State actors instigating non-State actors to strike at India.