Precision-Guided Munition06.12.2018 | Illy Pe'ery
One of the IAF's main munitions is PGM – Precision-Guided Munition. These are missiles and bombs with a range of hundreds of kilometers which are capable of precise strikes on specific targets.
As part of Operation "Focus" - which marked the beginning of the 1967 Six Day War – the IAF landed a blow on the Arab airfields and air forces and destroyed 70% of the hostile countries' fighter jets. Four "Kurnas" (Phantom) fighter jets which were integrated into the IAF during the 1969 War of Attrition provided the air force with new capabilities for the next campaign.
The IAF developed a new form of munition dropping which allowed "Kurnas" pilots to remain hidden at a low altitude and pull up for just a short duration, long enough to allow the guidance system to release the munition in a manner ensuring a considerably precise hit. "It was a new bombing system which improved our accuracy", described Col. (Res') Dr. Victor Shenkar, the first PGM project officer in the IAF who later became the Head of the IAF Development Department. "We were certain that we invented the secret weapon with which we would destroy the enemy's missile batteries".
A PLO target seen through the lens of a GBU-15 bomb during Operation "Wooden Leg" | Archive Photo
When the 1973 Yom Kippur War broke out, the scope of the enemy's SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries was larger than the IAF anticipated. The enemy states reached conclusions following Operation "Focus" – mainly, eschewing aerial development and placing an emphasis on massive SAM development.
"When the Yom Kippur War commenced we were surprised, and the element of surprise in our planned strikes was no longer relevant", said Maj. Gen. (Res') Eitan Ben Eliyahu, previously Commander of the IAF who acted as head of the IAF Strike Department when the war broke out. "The Egyptians and Syrians learned lessons from the Six Day War and hid all their aircraft in HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelters). We didn't consider the multiplication of SAM batteries and operated according to the same doctrines we used in Operation 'Focus': we came quietly and attacked all the batteries at once. However, when we arrived at the designated location, the batteries weren't there and we were required to refurnish our tactics".
In 1971, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems began developing the first guided SAM in the IAF. The futuristic, ambitious project was supposed to end in the beginning of the 80s, but the surprising Yom Kippur War changed their plans completely. "The war was a horrible blow to our morale. We realized that our capabilities and the enemy's capabilities were entirely different", said Col. (Res') Shenkar. "It was clear that as for a solution to the missile issue, we couldn't wait for the next war. We had to find a quick, practical solution using PGMs".
In August 1970, a ceasefire was announced and marked the ending of the War of Attrition. Afterwards, Israel received several PGMs from the United States, including the TV-guided "Walleye" glide bomb.
The "Walleye" glide bomb | Archive Photo
"When we approached development of a guided bomb after the Yom Kippur War, we wanted to base our process on existing weapon systems. We know that establishing an entire industry for the project would take years and years", said Col. (Res') Shenkar. "I remembered the 'Walleye' bombs, and after counseling with Rafael we reached a conclusion: we would use a general-use MK-84 bomb, which was then the largest bomb that could be used by a fighter jet. We attached the Walleye's homing device to its tail and attached the tail to its top".
In 1975, the IAF already had six new bombs. At the end of the decade, the IAF had 500 guided bombs of three different kinds and in 1982, when the First Lebanon War broke out, they were used in the battlefield for the first time.
"'Mole Cricket 19' (the destruction of Syrian missile batteries in Lebanon during the First Lebanon War) was the first operation in which PGMs were utilized by the IAF. During the operation, approximately 100 guided bombs were launched at 19 missile batteries. It was a great success which led to the destruction of the Syrian SAM Division in Lebanon. No Israeli aircraft was intercepted", recalled Col. (Res') Shenkar. "The IAF was euphoric, while on the other hand we realized that we were exposed. Now that the secret was revealed in the battlefield, we had to think up another solution for the next campaign".
Here to Stay
At this point, the IAF began working on the next generation of guided bombs. "At that point, we had several variants of glide bombs and PGMs in development. The glide bomb is dropped in an almost straight line towards its target, while the rocket-propelled missiles have a powerful engine allowing them to fly in more complex courses", explained Col. (Res') Shenkar. "We wanted to be innovative in this field, and so we decided to develop new PGMs".
GBU-15 bomb | Archive Photo
Even though new munitions are constantly being developed by the IAF, certain targets still require the use of PGMs. "When we finished our latest development, it was clear that the next stage was integrating new features meant to improve our offensive capabilities", concluded Col. (Res') Shenkar. "However, I have no doubt, that surgical strikes using advanced PGMs will continue to be performed".