The Ukrainian Air Force has received Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range (JDAM-ER) precision-guided bombs from the US, enabling them to hit large-sized Russian targets, such as bridges and hardened fortifications, from long distances.
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The head of US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), Gen. James Hecker, revealed details about Ukraine’s use of the JDAM-ER at a media roundtable held on the sidelines of the 2023 Air and Space Forces Association’s Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colorado.
“Recently, we’ve just gotten some precision munitions [to Ukraine] that had some extended range and go a little bit further than the gravity drop bomb and has precision [guidance],” Hecker said. “That’s a recent capability we could give them probably in the last three weeks.”
Gen. Hecker confirmed that he was specifically referring to the JDAM-ER and that the three-week time frame also aligns perfectly with Bloomberg’s report on February 21, which stated that the US military was working to deliver them to Ukraine.
Joint Direct Attack Munition For Ukraine
Standard JDAMs rely on a combination of the inertial navigation system (INS) and GPS guidance, coupled with an autopilot, to direct the bomb’s course via steerable tail fins.
The complete JDAM kit comprises a new tail containing a GPS-assisted inertial navigation system (INS) guidance system and strakes fitted elsewhere along the body of the bomb, which offers a limited ability to glide toward its intended target.
Depending on the altitude at which it is released, a JDAM can hit targets at a range of up to 24 kilometers, and the JDAM-ER’s wing kit extends this range up to around 72 kilometers.
It remains unclear what the exact configuration of the JDAM-ERs provided to Ukraine. However, Gen. Hecker is said to have referred to them using the designation ‘GBU-62.’
The only previously known variant of the GBU-62, as per reports, is the GBU-62(V)1/B, also known as the Quickstrike-ER, that pairs the JDAM-ER kit with the 2,000-pound class Mk 64 Quickstrike naval mine.
While the Quickstrike mines are based on Mk 80-series bombs, they are not meant to be used as general-purpose strike weapons, and therefore it seems more probable that the JDAM-ERs for Ukraine have more traditional bombs at their core. It is possible that the warheads could be Quickstrike mines converted into standard bombs.
It is also unknown what platforms Ukrainian Air Force uses to deploy these weapons. However, Gen. Hecker’s remarks about the JDAM-ER are said to have immediately followed after a discussion about integrating the US-made AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM) onto Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker fighters.
#Ukrainiian MiG-29 fighter jets firing AGM-88 HARM missiles pic.twitter.com/Md7Cc6oeNE
— Giorgi Revishvili (@revishvilig) August 30, 2022
Considering the amount of work that must have gone into enabling these Soviet-era jets to fire AGM-88s, as has been discussed at a great length by EurAsian Times in the past, it is possible, if not likely, that these are the platforms that are being used to deliver JDAM-ERs.
Also, most of Ukraine’s tactical aviation fleet comprises the MiG-29s and Su-27s. That said, several Su-24 Fencers and the Su-25 Frogfoots could also be used for dropping the JDAM-ERs.
Hecker also stressed that Ukraine currently possesses only a limited number of JDAM-ERs, “enough to do a couple of strikes.”
JDAM-ERs Could Pose Challenges To Russia
US military commentators suggest that even a small number of JDAM-ERs will pose unprecedented challenges for Russian forces, as they will provide Ukraine with a precision-guided fire-and-forget weapon, which will allow the Ukrainian fighter pilots to turn away immediately after firing it, thereby putting a distance between themselves and hostile air defense systems.
As discussed earlier by EurAsian Times, Russian and Ukrainian air forces have lost several warplanes to surface-to-air missiles and shoulder-fired man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). Therefore the introduction of JDAM-ERs could be a lifesaver for Ukrainian Air Force, which was already outnumbered by the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS).
Also, the INS portion of the guidance package means the boom must be able to retain accuracy to a significant extent, even if the GPS signal is jammed or otherwise lost.
Also, the JDAM-ER’s wing kit extends the weapon’s range and helps further enhance the survivability of the launch aircraft.
Also, Gen. Hecker particularly noted that the JDAM-ER would enable the Ukrainian forces to strike a new set of targets that might be outside the reach of Ukraine’s existing inventory of air-launched and ground-based weapons, including the US-supplied HIMARS and variants and derivatives of the M270 MLRS supplied by other nations.
Before the provision of JDAM-ER, HIMARS MLRS were among Ukraine’s farthest-reaching precision-strike weapons. However, the maximum range of their rockets is about 69 kilometers.
Besides, these rockets are armed with 200-pound class (90.71 kg) warheads, whereas JDAM-ERs could potentially carry up to 2,000-pound class (907.18 kilograms) types. This increased firepower expands the scope of targets that Ukrainian forces can destroy.
That said, Gen. Hecker also acknowledged that the current circumstances faced by the Ukrainian Air Force could prevent it from using the JDAM-ERs up to their full range.
“I don’t want to get into the exact tactics… but obviously, the lower you are, and the further away from the surface to air missiles that can detect you because of the curvature of the earth,” affect how far the bomb can travel, he explained. “There are tactics where you can go in low and do some things… and get back.”
The confirmation from the head of USAFE that Ukrainian forces are deploying JDAM-ERs comes amid speculations from netizens about the same based on multiple videos emerging on social media that purportedly show instances of these weapons being used by the Ukrainian forces.
However, it is impossible to ascertain from these clips whether the weapons seen being used are indeed the JDAM-ER; however, that is certainly a possibility.
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