The past two decades have become a period of another revolution in the military, where digital technologies are increasingly being introduced. We have entered the era of "informatization" of the war. One of the most obvious manifestations of this revolution was the massive proliferation of high-precision weapons, which supplant unguided ammunition.
With surgical precision
In fact, in the most developed countries of the West, this process has already taken complete forms in the field of aviation weapons. The death of the "ordinary" aviation bombs can be considered a fait accompli, it’s time to serve a memorial service for unguided artillery shells.
In fact, throughout the last quarter of a century, all US and NATO military campaigns, traditionally conducted with air power, were distinguished by an increasing share of the use of guided aircraft weapons and high-precision weapons (WTO) other types. It was the large-scale use of the WTO that allowed the Western powers to finally translate local wars with their participation into a “non-contact” form, making the current aviation a decisive factor capable of fully determining the outcome of a modern limited war.
The WTO made it possible to dramatically increase the effectiveness of the use of weapons of destruction, contributing literally to an abrupt increase in the number of targets hit. If earlier large enough aviation groups had to be equipped to defeat an important goal, and without any guarantee of success, and often at risk of possible losses, now it became realistic to implement the “one ammunition - one goal” principle, and with a probability of defeat close to 100-percent .
Modern aviation WTO can be used sighting, regardless of the distance and height of the carrier from the target. This actually made it possible to abandon the direct search for the target by the means of the aircraft itself and its crew and proceed to the automated use of weapons from high and medium heights. In fact, strike aircraft were transformed into platforms, patrolling at medium and high altitudes, inaccessible to most air defense weapons, and sending high-precision ammunition from there according to previously obtained target coordinates or by external target designation.
All this leads to dramatic changes in the appearance of the air war. Direct air support of troops can now be carried out from medium and high altitudes, without requiring a reduction over the battlefield, and thus threatening the class of attack aircraft and fighter-bombers in their traditional understanding with the disappearance. Moreover, the very participation of a person in the process of using weapons can be minimized, which opens the way for the introduction of strike unmanned aerial vehicles. The actions of aviation themselves become virtually unpunished due to the inaccessibility of the main body of air defense systems (especially military), demanding new, costly approaches to the organization of air defense.
The lessons of the Western military campaigns of recent years give a fairly clear idea of the trends in the development and application of the WTO. So, during the “Storm in the Desert” in 1991, American aircraft spent 210 thousand conventional unguided bombs and 16.8 thousand aviation guided munitions. That is, the share of guided weapons was about 7% of the total. Although the 1991 operation against Iraq was a combat debut for weapons with a satellite guidance system (American CALCM cruise missiles), the aircraft guided bombs used in this conflict were in the mass of their previous generations, with laser or television guidance systems. In addition, only a small number of aircraft were adapted for this weapon, which partly predetermined the limited use of the WTO. Nevertheless, it was then that the WTO was for the first time effectively and extensively used to crush the enemy’s air defense system, to destroy and suppress the command and control centers of enemy armed forces.
The 1991 experience of the year gave a tremendous impetus to the rapid introduction of the WTO in the United States and NATO countries. As a result, in less than a decade, the pattern of air warfare has seriously changed. In the course of the NATO military campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, alliance aircraft dropped only about 14 thousand unguided bombs and about 9.6 thousand air guided munitions - the share of guided weapons was more than 40%. In this conflict, American tactical aviation practically did not use "stupid" bombs, moving almost exclusively to the use of guided weapons. The widespread use of the WTO, combined with effective electronic countermeasures and the suppression of enemy air defense systems, allowed NATO aircraft to move mainly to operations from medium and high altitudes, which brought numerous Yugoslav short-range air defense weapons out of the game. This minimized the losses of the aviation of the attackers - according to reliable data, for the entire conflict the Serbs managed to shoot down only two aircraft.
The use of unguided bombs in 1999 was the fate of the B-1B and B-52H strategic bombers who tried to arrange "traditional style" carpet bombing on Serbian positions in Kosovo - as can be judged, with negligible results with 11 thousand bombs dropped.
To counterbalance this, the B-2A Invisible Strategic Bombers demonstrated the highest efficiency. They used the main novelty, which greatly changed the concept of the effectiveness of aircraft armament, JDAM satellite guided bombs. At that time, only B-2A could carry JDAM, and flights were made from the US with numerous refueling in the air and continued from 28 to 32 hours. Bombing was carried out on previously reconnoitered targets from a height of about 12 thousand meters. As a result, six B-2A bombers with JDAM bombs, made 49 sorties (that is, less than 1% of the total number of coalition sorties) and dropped all 656 smart bombs, hit 33% of the total number of declared 995 NATO fixed targets. The effectiveness of the use of JDAM bombs was, according to American data, 95%.
After such a success, the arming of Western military aircraft with JDAM bombs and other satellite-guided munitions went wide. The campaign against Yugoslavia was the last major military operation in the West, in which the number of guided aviation ammunition used was less than the number of unguided ones. In the new war against Iraq in 2003, the share of aviation WTO already accounted for more than two-thirds - the US and British aircraft used 19 thousands of precision-guided munitions and only 9251 unguided bombs. Half of the dropped WTO has fallen on satellite-guided systems, primarily on JDAM bombs.
In the course of the Iraqi operation 2003 of the year and the subsequent counterinsurgency struggle in Iraq, as well as in the fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2001, the US and NATO aircraft tested new forms of direct support to ground forces. First of all, this is the application of the WTO on real-time target designation from advanced aircraft pilots on the ground. This allowed us to support ground units with unprecedented efficiency and efficiency, in fact, aviation began to play the role of high-precision "air artillery." The accuracy of the use of "smart" bombs allows them to be used to defeat an enemy who is in direct combat with his troops, and requests for strikes and target designation can now be issued even by small units - the level of platoons and companies. It is not difficult to understand that the enemy, who does not have such possibilities and methods of counteraction, is, in fact, doomed to extermination.
The development of modern high-precision ammunition allowed the process of reducing their weight to begin at the expense of reducing the mass of the warhead. A good example of this was the small-sized SDB bomb with a caliber of all 250 pounds (i.e., 113 kg), already adopted by American aircraft, and even more miniature ammunition, including equipment for small tactical-level drones, are on the way. Such small-sized "goods", firstly, cheaper; secondly, they allow to increase the ammunition of carrier aircraft to very significant values.
In the air operation in Libya in 2011, the aviation of the Western coalition already used almost exclusively the WTO (using about 5,5 thousand "smart" ammunition), finally switching to the "medium-altitude pre-programmed air war". It is not surprising that at the same time NATO aircraft did not suffer any combat losses (and even in the 2003 operation against Iraq, only one or two American planes were shot down due to the actions of the Iraqi air defense).
In Libya, Western aviation widely used high-precision operational-tactical cruise missiles (such as SCALP-EG and Storm Shadow), actively entering into service the NATO air forces and allowing them to deliver surgical precision strikes (including on protected objects such as command bunkers) without any entry into the air defense zone. Another feature of the Libyan campaign was the very large-scale debut of the WTO with combined and multi-channel guidance systems - in particular, guided bombs combining satellite guidance with laser semi-active, which can significantly improve the accuracy of hits. This also includes such a new product used with great success, as the British small-sized Brimstone airborne missiles with dual channel homing heads, which showed high efficiency against armored vehicles and other similar targets. At the same time combat aircraft can carry a significant amount of Brimstone missiles.
A sad contrast to the capabilities of Western states was the actions of Russian aviation in the “five-day war” against Georgia in August 2008. Russian attack planes stormed the enemy troops from low altitudes in the best traditions of World War II, strikes on airfields and rear facilities of Georgia were bombed by Tu-22М3 and Su-24М bombers, and the coordination with the ground forces was minimal, and coordination with ground forces was minimal; "Friendly" fire. As a result, in an insignificant, in fact, military campaign against a weak enemy, the Russian Air Force managed to lose five planes (of which two or three, it seems, were shot down by their own).
So you can not fight today. The acute shortage and, in fact, the absence of many modern types of aviation WTO in service with the Russian military aviation forces us to use archaic and primitive methods of warfare, condemning the Air Force to notorious inefficiency and heavy losses, and when confronted with a serious enemy, it guarantees defeat.
At the same time, the argument often made in justification regarding the “high value” of the WTO on closer examination does not hold water. Yes, the price of high-precision ammunition is much higher than unmanaged ones. However, the cost of modern aviation systems, as well as their operation, and training, and maintenance of crews for them, is so high that their use without proper efficiency, and even with the risk of loss, becomes simply irrational from the point of view of "profitability". In Libya, the cost of one flight hour during a combat departure of a fighter-bomber was estimated at 50 – 60 thousand dollars, and this is without taking into account the training and maintenance of the crew. If we assume that for the guaranteed destruction of unmanaged weapons of one target, ten aircraft are required conditionally for several hours each (and this is still an optimistic estimate), then it is clear that this expenditure is irrational compared to the cost of departure of one strike aircraft with a pair of high-precision ammunition for solving the same problem. In the case of a much higher probability of losing a modern combat aircraft (costing many tens of millions of dollars) from countering air defenses when using unguided weapons, any talk about the “value” of the WTO generally turns into speculation. Obviously, using unguided bombs or unguided rockets from a modern combat aircraft is the same as chopping nuts with an electron microscope.
Russian military aviation is in dire need of rapid and large-scale re-equipment of modern means of destruction in the form of high-precision weapons of domestic production. Russia in this area is so critically lagging behind the West and simply has no right to widen the gap. The purchase of modern combat aircraft systems without the purchase of modern guided weapons - money down the drain. Uncontrollable bombs and unguided rockets as aviation weapons should be unconditionally abolished and buried, and the sooner this happens in the Russian Air Force, the better.