Wing Kits For Ukraine’s JDAM Bombs Would Be A Big Problem For Russia

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In a significant development, Ukraine is poised to receive the U.S.-made Joint Direct Attack Munition — Extended Range (JDAM-ER), an advanced air-launched precision-guided bomb. This bomb is equipped with a supplemental wing kit, enabling it to strike targets approximately 45 miles away. This revelation follows earlier announcements about the JDAM’s provision to Ukraine, marking a substantial upgrade from the previously expected basic version with limited range.

Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources, that the JDAM-ER is part of a $1.85-billion arms package announced on December 21. However, the U.S. Department of Defense, through spokeswoman Kelly Flynn, has refrained from confirming the specific inclusion of wing-kit versions of JDAM, citing operational security.

The JDAM’s guidance package, combining an inertial navigation system (INS) and a GPS receiver, has already promised enhanced accuracy for the Ukrainian Air Force in striking Russian targets. The JDAM-ER extends these capabilities with its extended range, tripling the original JDAM’s effective distance, according to Boeing, the manufacturer.

This extended range opens up a broader array of Russian targets for the Ukrainian Air Force and provides a strategic advantage by keeping launch aircraft at safer distances from Russian air defense systems. The JDAM-ER’s wing kit facilitates a gliding trajectory toward its target, potentially allowing for more tactical launch approaches, like a lofted trajectory from lower altitudes.

Additionally, pairing JDAM-ER with AGM-88 HARM ‘shooters’ could allow Ukrainian aircraft to approach closer to front lines, exploiting the bomb’s long-range capabilities to hit targets deep behind enemy lines.

An AGM-88 HARM loaded on a MiG-29 – released by a Ukrainian organization called RevengeFor. RevengeFor capture via X

Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker carrying American-made AGM-88 HARM missiles

Interestingly, Gen. Christopher Cavoli of U.S. European Command recently emphasized Ukraine’s need for longer-range missiles. While the JDAM-ER doesn’t reach the 100-kilometer range Cavoli mentioned, it represents a substantial step in bolstering Ukraine’s strike capabilities.

It’s important to note that the JDAM-ER isn’t a commonly stockpiled weapon and remains relatively specialized. Its provision implies a strategic decision to offer Ukraine a more advanced, albeit harder-to-source, capability. Last month, Boeing received a U.S. Air Force contract for JDAM wing kits, potentially indicating increased production to meet these new demands.

The JDAM kit, adaptable to various bomb types, significantly enhances the firepower available to Ukraine. Compared to the warheads used in HIMARS or MLRS systems, the JDAM-ER can carry substantially larger payloads, enabling more impactful strikes on larger or fortified targets.

The introduction of the JDAM-ER into Ukraine’s arsenal could dramatically alter the tactical landscape. While challenges remain in integrating these systems onto Ukrainian aircraft and training personnel, the potential operational advantages are considerable.

As the conflict evolves, the deployment of the JDAM-ER by Ukraine will likely be a focal point in assessing the effectiveness and impact of U.S. and allied military support in the region. With its enhanced range and payload, the JDAM-ER not only represents a significant boost in Ukraine’s military capabilities but also a notable shift in the dynamics of the ongoing conflict.

As discussions around the JDAM-ER continue, its strategic implications are vast. The JDAM-ER’s extended range capability fundamentally alters the Ukrainian Air Force’s operational tactics, allowing for more versatile and distant strikes against Russian forces. This shift could compel Russia to reassess its defensive postures, particularly in rear areas previously considered out of reach for Ukrainian munitions.

The potential use of JDAM-ER kits on Soviet-era freefall bombs, which constitute a significant part of Ukraine’s existing arsenal, is an intriguing possibility. While technical challenges and compatibility issues are likely, such an adaptation could rapidly increase the volume of precision-guided munitions at Ukraine’s disposal. Interestingly, similar developments have been observed in Russia, suggesting a broader trend in modernizing legacy munitions with contemporary guidance systems.

The integration of the JDAM-ER onto Ukrainian aircraft, such as the MiG-29, Su-27, Su-24, and potentially the Su-25, will require technical modifications and training. The process might mirror that used for integrating the AGM-88 HARM, involving pre-planned targets and potentially limiting in-flight targeting capabilities. However, given the JDAM-ER’s primary role in striking static targets, this limitation may not significantly impact its effectiveness.

The JDAM-ER also poses a challenge to Russian air defenses. While these systems are capable of intercepting glide bombs, the practical difficulties in doing so are significant. The JDAM-ER’s extended range allows Ukrainian forces to launch from safer distances, reducing the risk to aircraft and crew. In the event of a JDAM-ER being intercepted, Ukrainian forces could simply re-attack the target, especially with multiple munitions converging simultaneously.

The confirmation of the JDAM-ER’s inclusion in Ukraine’s arsenal remains pending from the Pentagon. However, the strategic implications of such an addition are already being discussed and analyzed. The introduction of the JDAM-ER would align with previous trends in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, focusing on enhancing long-range precision strike capabilities without escalating to the provision of systems like the ATACMS, which could broaden the conflict scope due to their range and payload.

Enhancing Ukrainian Air Capabilities: Insight into Specialized Pylons for JDAM-ER on MiG-29s and Su-27s

Recent photographic evidence has offered a comprehensive look at a unique pylon adaptation on Ukrainian MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters and Su-27 Flankers, designed specifically for carrying the U.S.-supplied JDAM-ER precision-guided glide bombs. This development highlights the innovative approaches being employed by Ukraine in augmenting its military assets to counter Russian forces effectively.

The photograph showcases a MiG-29, identifiable by its bort number White 22, fitted with these specialized pylons. These pylons are characterized by their tapered protrusions that extend forward of the bomb attachment point, a design not previously standard in such aircraft. The aircraft, also armed with an R-73 short-range air-to-air missile, is located inside a hangar, indicative of the secretive and mobile strategies adopted by Ukrainian air forces to elude Russian targeting.

What stands out in the pylon design is the inclusion of a black-colored antenna, sensor, or emitter situated at the front of the protrusion. The specific function of this feature remains a subject of analysis and speculation. It could be part of an electronic support measures (ESM) system, a radar homing and warning receiver (RHWR), or an element of an electronic warfare jamming system. These systems are crucial in enhancing the survivability of aircraft in hostile environments laden with advanced air defense systems.

While Ukrainian MiG-29s and Su-27s have used AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs) in their operations, this particular pylon design has been exclusively observed with JDAM-ER munitions. This exclusivity suggests a unique and possibly integral role of the pylon in the operation of JDAM-ERs.

The JDAM-ER, reliant on a GPS-assisted inertial navigation system (INS) for guidance, requires precise locational data at launch. The Ukrainian MiG-29s and Su-27s, not originally equipped with integrated GPS/INS capability and NATO-compatible data buses, necessitate an external solution for this requirement.

The pylon’s protruding design, potentially housing a GPS antenna, represents an ingenious workaround. This placement ensures an unobstructed line of sight to GPS satellites and avoids interference from the aircraft’s structure, thereby maintaining the JDAM-ER’s accuracy and effectiveness. Such an adaptation could be pivotal in compensating for reported instances where Russian electronic warfare capabilities have impacted the performance of Ukrainian JDAM-ERs.

JDAM-ER’s extended range of up to 45 miles presents a significant tactical advantage, enabling Ukrainian pilots to execute strikes from safer distances while avoiding direct engagement with hostile air defenses. The addition of these specialized pylons further amplifies this capability, ensuring more efficient and secure operations against Russian targets.

Beyond its specific application for JDAM-ER targeting, the unique pylon design may also represent a broader initiative to incorporate additional functionalities, such as self-protection electronic warfare systems. This approach aligns with global military aviation trends where integrated defensive capabilities are becoming increasingly prevalent.

In conclusion, the adaptation of specialized pylons on Ukrainian MiG-29s and Su-27s for JDAM-ER deployment reflects a strategic and innovative response to the challenges posed in the current conflict. These developments not only enhance the effectiveness of Ukrainian air operations but also demonstrate a significant level of ingenuity and adaptability in the face of evolving warfare demands. The ongoing conflict continues to serve as a catalyst for rapid advancements in military technology and tactics, with Ukraine’s adaptations playing a pivotal role in shaping the course of aerial warfare.

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