JDAMs loaded under the left wing of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, with a LITENING II Targeting Pod visible beneath the fuselage. Public domain.
First reported by The War Zone, yesterday at the 2023 Air and Space Force Association’s Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colorado, USAF Gen. James Hecker confirmed Ukraine’s acceptance and use of the JDAM-ER smart bomb.
The JDAM-ER stands for Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range and is one of the United States’ top all-weather precision-guided munitions.
The JDAM guidance kit converts unguided bombs, or “dumb gravity bombs” into smart ones.
JDAM made its debut during Operation Allied Force where B-2 Spirit stealth bombers launched 651 JDAMs with 96% reliability and hit 87% of intended targets.
According to The War Zone, the complete JDAM kit consists of a new tail for the dumb bomb, which contains a GPS-assisted inertial navigation system (INS) guidance system, and strakes that go elsewhere along the bomb body giving it a limited ability to glide to its designated target.
A normal JDAM can hit targets up to 15 miles away. But the JDAM-ER (extended range) that Ukraine received can extend that range to 50 miles. Plus, the JDAM is a “fire and forget” weapon, meaning after deployment, the Ukrainian fighter can turn around and get the heck out of Dodge.
How will Ukraine deliver the bombs to Russian targets?
Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker fighters have recently been modified to fire U.S.-made AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM). This same modification would allow JDAM-ER to be affixed to the jets’ hard points.
As it stands now, the bulk of Ukrainian Air Force fighters are Fulcrums and Flankers.
Because of the thick Russian surface-to-air coverage over Eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian fighters would likely have to fly low, using the curvature of the Earth to avoid detection, and perform a “pop-up” maneuver — similar, although not identical, to the finale of [SPOILER] Top Gun Maverick.
JDAM-ER represents an entirely new headache for Russian forces.
U.S.-supplied HIMARS are currently the longest-range precision strike weapon in Ukraine’s arsenal, but the maximum range of HIMARS is only 40 miles. On top of that, HIMARS munitions only have 200-pound warheads.
In contrast, the JDAM-ER payload could be as large as 2,000 pounds representing a 10x increase in destructive capability.
Ideal Russian targets include massed infantry or armor columns, headquarters buildings, ammunition storage, bridges, and Russian airfields.
Since the JDAM is particularly useful against ships, Ukraine could strike Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.
Ex-Schenectady (LST-1185) was damaged by seven 2,000-pound JDAMs during the USAF exercise Resultant Fury in November 2004. Public Domain
By some accounts, the JDAM is already in use in Ukraine.
The shockwave in the above Tweet is typical of a 1000-pound munition or larger.
And this video does an excellent job of showing the differences between different JDAM payload sizes:
Ukraine’s initial delivery of JDAM kits was probably small in quantity. But future Western aid will likely increase their supply. JDAM kits are cheap, relatively speaking, costing only $20,000 per upgrade.
Ukraine’s ability to take Western weapon systems and combine them with their Soviet-era and commercial-grade equipment toward a cohesive strategy is unmatched in modern warfare.
And now, Russia has a new reason to look to the sky and worry.