Rostec’s PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel Glide Bomb: A Technological Leap in Aerial Munitions

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In a report by TASS on January 10, 2024, Rostec, the Russian state-owned conglomerate, announced its imminent production of the PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel (‘Drill’) glide bomb, marking a significant advancement in aerial munitions technology. This sophisticated bomb, developed by NPO Basalt, is poised to revolutionize aerial warfare with its precise targeting capabilities and enhanced stealth features.

The PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel, weighing in at 540 kilograms, is specifically engineered to neutralize armored vehicles, ground-based radar stations, and control centers of missile systems. Its nomenclature offers insight into its key attributes: ‘PBK’ denotes Gliding Bomb Cassette, ‘500’ signifies its caliber and weight, ‘U’ indicates its controlled nature, and ‘SPBE-K’ stands for Self-Aiming Combined Combat Element. The name “Drill” was aptly chosen to reflect its original purpose of penetrating the upper, less protected portions of Main Battle Tanks (MBTs).

Central to the bomb’s efficacy is its guidance system, likely a combination of inertial guidance with satellite correction capabilities such as GPS and GLONASS. This passive guidance system enables precise targeting without requiring direct contact with the target, ensuring the safety of the attacking aircraft. Depending on mission requirements, the PBK-500U SPBE-K can be equipped with various cluster warheads or monoblock warheads, enhancing its versatility and effectiveness against diverse targets.

Upon nearing the target, the PBK-500U SPBE-K deploys 15 submunitions via parachute, optimized to penetrate enemy armor and defenses effectively. Equipped with thermal sensors, the bomb can detect “cold” targets, including tanks with their engines turned off, further enhancing its target discrimination capabilities. Notably, the bomb incorporates a recognition system to differentiate between enemy and friendly vehicles, reducing the risk of fratricide.

Safety features are paramount in the design of the PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel. In the event of a miss, the bomb is programmed to self-destruct, minimizing the risk of collateral damage. Moreover, it boasts a degree of resistance to electronic warfare and radar detection, enhancing its survivability in hostile environments.

The PBK-500U SPBE-K represents a fusion of glide bomb and cluster munition technologies, combining the standoff capability of glide bombs with the target diversity of cluster munitions. By enabling aircraft to release the bomb from a safe distance, outside the range of enemy defenses, it enhances operational flexibility and reduces the risk to attacking aircraft.

Various Soviet-era and Russian aircraft are expected to serve as carriers for the PBK-500U SPBE-K, including the MiG-29K, MiG-29SMT, MiG-35, Su-24M, Su-25SM, Su-25SM3, Su-30, Su-30SM, Su-33, Su-34, Su-35, Su-57, Tu-22M3M, Tu-95MSM, and Tu-160M2. This wide compatibility ensures the bomb’s integration into the existing fleet of Russian aircraft, bolstering the country’s aerial combat capabilities.

The PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel glide bomb, with its innovative self-aiming SPBE-K combat elements and advanced guidance system, represents a significant advancement in aerial munitions technology. These combat elements, equipped with a combined target coordinator utilizing thermal and radar channels for guidance, endow the bomb with remarkable precision and versatility in combat scenarios. Russian sources assert that a single PBK-500U equipped with these elements can effectively disable up to six armored vehicles, underscoring its formidable capability in diverse combat environments.

Engineered for all-weather operations, the PBK-500U Drel is designed to perform reliably in various atmospheric conditions, ensuring its effectiveness regardless of environmental factors. Its intended targets encompass a wide range of military assets, including armored vehicles, air defense systems, command posts, and military structures exhibiting thermal or radar contrast relative to the terrain.

Despite its advanced features, the exact cost of the PBK-500U remains undisclosed. However, Russian experts estimate its price to be competitive compared to imported analogs, potentially as low as $50,000 or even less. This affordability could facilitate mass production and deployment, positioning the PBK-500U as a cost-effective alternative to cruise and ballistic missiles for the Russian Armed Forces. With its larger payload capacity and capability to strike multiple targets in a single launch, the PBK-500U offers a compelling option for military planners seeking to maximize operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Physically, the PBK-500U Drel boasts a mass of 540 kilograms and measures 3,100 millimeters in length, sharing the same diameter as its predecessor, the PBK-500U. It can be released at altitudes ranging from 100 meters to 14 kilometers, with an effective range of approximately 30 kilometers. Rostec’s press service has confirmed plans for the first production batch of these munitions to roll out in 2024, marking a significant milestone in the bomb’s development and deployment.

The development of the PBK-500U Drel has been a multi-year endeavor, with experts from the State Research and Production Enterprise Basalt initiating the project in the mid-1990s with the aim of enhancing the capabilities of the Russian Air Force. Despite initial economic challenges that delayed progress, the project has recently been revitalized and brought to fruition. Prototypes were ready by 2016, with the first models showcased at the Army-2016 forum. The integration of the GLONASS navigation system for guidance likely influenced the timing of its release, as ensuring operational effectiveness in the face of potential navigation disruptions during conflict scenarios is paramount.

Originally conceived as a domestic counterpart to the American JSOW weapon system, the PBK-500U was designed to surpass monoblock aerial bombs in effectiveness, requiring fewer munitions to achieve similar results. It adds to Basalt’s existing arsenal of disposable RBK-500 bomb clusters and KMGU aviation containers with various combat elements, further enhancing the versatility and potency of Russia’s aerial munitions inventory.

The SPBE-D and SPBE-K

Russian weaponry continues to push boundaries with the introduction of the SPBE-D (СПБЭ-Д) and SPBE-K, marking significant advancements in high-explosive munitions technology. These sensor-fuzed weapons, boasting dual infrared sensors and sophisticated guidance systems, represent a new era in precision targeting and lethality on the battlefield.

SPBE-D and SPBE-K: Innovations in Munitions

The SPBE-D, also known as the Self-Guided Combat Submunition (Само Прицеливающийся Боевой Элемент), is a high-explosive, dual infrared heat-seeking sensor-fuzed weapon. Unlike its predecessors, the SPBE-D features a dual-band IR sensor and autonomous guidance, eliminating the need for a command module. This advancement enhances its effectiveness and versatility in targeting enemy assets.

Guidance and Target Acquisition

Equipped with a dual-band IR sensor, the SPBE-D autonomously scans the target area with a look angle of 30º at a rotational rate of 6 to 9 rpm. Its descent rate of 15 to 17 m/s is regulated by a four-canopy parachute system. Once the sensor locks onto the target and determines the optimal detonation point, the SPBE-D arms itself and triggers the detonation of the Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP), a devastating 173mm diameter copper plate.

Lethality and Precision

Upon detonation, the formed penetrator, weighing 1kg and traveling at a velocity of 2,000 m/s, delivers unparalleled destructive force, capable of penetrating even the most heavily armored targets. The inclusion of a self-destruct feature ensures the safe disposal of unexploded ordnance, minimizing the risk to friendly forces and civilians.

Operational Advantages and Future Prospects

The SPBE-D and its variant, the SPBE-K, with an added Radio-Frequency (RF) sensor, offer unparalleled precision and lethality on the modern battlefield. With autonomous guidance and advanced sensor technology, these munitions excel in targeting enemy assets with pinpoint accuracy.

Advancements in Aerial Munitions: The PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel Glide Bomb and Its Development Journey

PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel glide bomb:

Feature/CapabilityDescription
Bomb TypeGlide bomb with self-aiming SPBE-K combat elements
Weight540 kilograms
Length3,100 millimeters
Diameter450 millimeters (estimated, based on predecessor)
Guidance SystemInertial guidance system supplemented by satellite correction (likely GPS and GLONASS)
PayloadCan be equipped with various cluster warheads or monoblock warheads
Submunitions DeploymentDeploys 15 submunitions via parachute for effective penetration of enemy armor and defenses
Targeting SensorsEquipped with thermal sensors for detecting “cold” targets and a recognition system for distinguishing friend from foe
Self-Destruct MechanismIntegrated for minimizing collateral damage in case of missing the intended target
Stealth FeaturesDesigned with resistance to electronic warfare and radar detection
Operational AltitudeCan be released at altitudes ranging from 100 meters to 14 kilometers
Effective RangeApproximately 30 kilometers
Drop Speed700 to 1,100 km/h
Aircraft CompatibilityVarious Soviet-era and Russian aircraft including MiG-29K, MiG-29SMT, MiG-35, Su-24M, Su-25SM, Su-25SM3, Su-30, Su-30SM, Su-33, Su-34, Su-35, Su-57, Tu-22M3M, Tu-95MSM, and Tu-160M2
Target TypesArmored vehicles, ground-based radar stations, control centers of missile systems, and military structures
CostEstimated to be competitively priced, possibly around $50,000 or less
All-Weather OperationsDesigned for effective performance in various weather conditions
ManufacturerDeveloped by the Russian state-owned company Rostec in collaboration with NPO Basalt
Development TimelineUnder development since the mid-1990s, with prototypes ready by 2016
Testing and TrialsCompleted state trials by the end of 2016, further testing conducted thereafter
Production StatusProduction scheduled to commence in 2024

The development of the PBK-500U guided submunition sliding bomb marks a significant milestone in the evolution of precision-guided munitions. Emerging from the foundational technology of the unguided submunition bomb RBK-500U, the PBK-500U represents a leap forward in the accuracy and efficacy of aerial bombardment, particularly against armored targets. This advancement was realized through the dedicated efforts of the GNPP Bazalt workshop, under the codename Drel-4, initiated by a directive from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on October 25, 1995.

Design and Capabilities

The PBK-500U, also referred to as the Puma, boasts a distinct aerodynamic design characterized by a spindle-shaped body with an ogival tip and a tapered tail, culminating in the installation of massive trapezoidal wings. These wings, notable for their relatively small span yet significant depth, are arranged in an “X” shape, directly influencing the bomb’s aerodynamic properties and enhancing its glide range beyond 30 km when released from high altitudes. This design mirrors the strategic intent behind the American JSOW-type guided bombs, aiming to provide a comparable capability for precision engagement within the Russian arsenal.

One of the key innovations within the PBK-500U is its payload capacity to house 15 guided anti-tank bombs of the SPBE-K type, also a product of GNPP Bazalt’s expertise. Each SPBE-K bomb, weighing 15 kg and featuring a cylindrical form, incorporates a sophisticated homing system that combines infrared (IR) sensing with radar guidance, facilitating precise target acquisition and engagement. The homing system’s design is reportedly influenced by the guidance technology used in the Chrysanthemum anti-tank system (RS-AT-15 Springer), ensuring reliable “friend-foe” differentiation and enabling the effective targeting of enemy equipment in proximity to friendly forces.

Upon deployment, the SPBE-K submunitions are designed to descend at speeds between 15 to 17 m/s, aided by four parachutes, while rotating at 6 to 9 rpm to stabilize their descent. The self-guidance system autonomously directs each bomb to a detonation point approximately 150 m above the target. The detonation mechanism, leveraging an explosively formed projectile (EFP) concept, generates a projectile capable of penetrating up to 100 mm of homogeneous armor, demonstrating the bomb’s effectiveness against modern armored vehicles.

Operational History and Developments

The PBK-500U underwent extensive testing, concluding in 2010, with initial plans to integrate the first batch of 100 bombs into the Russian Air Force’s arsenal. However, funding constraints in January 2011 halted the program’s progression, leading to a period where further development was sustained solely by the manufacturer’s resources. It wasn’t until September 2016 that updates on the state trials suggested a nearing completion, with the bomb making its public debut at the Armija 2017 exhibition. This event underscored the PBK-500U’s readiness for operational deployment, with announcements in January 2024 confirming the successful completion of all required tests and the initiation of production.

Looking ahead, GNPP Bazalt has disclosed plans to enhance the PBK-500U’s operational range, particularly for low-altitude releases, through the integration of a small pulsation engine. This modification aims to extend the bomb’s applicability across a wider range of tactical scenarios, solidifying its role as a versatile and potent tool in the precision-guided munitions domain.

In summary, the PBK-500U guided submunition sliding bomb embodies the continuous evolution of military technology, offering a sophisticated blend of aerodynamic design, advanced guidance systems, and potent warhead capabilities. Its development and operational deployment reflect a strategic commitment to maintaining parity with global advancements in precision-guided munitions, ensuring that the capabilities of the Russian Federation’s armed forces remain at the forefront of modern warfare.

In conclusion, the PBK-500U SPBE-K Drel glide bomb represents a significant technological leap in aerial munitions, combining precision targeting, enhanced stealth features, and versatility in a single platform. Its imminent production heralds a new era in aerial warfare, where advanced munitions play a pivotal role in achieving military objectives while minimizing collateral damage and ensuring the safety of friendly forces.

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