Originally appeared at TopWar; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Since mid-August 2017, numerous news blocks of Russian, western European and American military analytical portals have been flooded with information about the conclusion between the Romanian Defense Ministry and the military industrial corporation Lockheed Martin of a very impressive 1.25 billion contract for the purchase of 54 mobile launchers, the M142 high-precision multiple launch HIMARS rocket systems, including full ammunition of the latest generation. It consists of 81 227m M31A1 GMLRS “Unitary” guided missiles with a single warhead, 81 guided missiles M30A1 GMLRS “Alternative Warhead” with cluster “bombs” in the form of 180 thousand tungsten and steel balls in specialised containers, 54 operational-tactical ballistic missiles MGM-140B Block IA with fragmentation warheads of 300 fission M74 APAM, as well as 30 training rockets with reduced range.
Indeed, it is not very good news for the Operational Group of Russian troops in the Transdniestrian region of the republic of Moldova, which, unfortunately, was not equipped in time with batteries of advanced anti-aircraft missile and artillery systems Pantsir-S1, and for the military group of the Russian Armed Force in the Republic of Crimea, which may be in the affected area of these guided missiles and separate tank brigades in the case of the deployment of HIMARS on the Ukrainian territory (in Odessa and in Mykolayiv regions). Such a scenario is quite realistic if we take into account the possible escalation of hostilities in the Moldovan Transdniestrian Republic (MTR), the involvement of the North Atlantic Alliance in the conflict, the participation of the Romanian side with its imperial habits in the north-western Black Sea region, as well as the comprehensive support of the Ukrainian side for all this lawlessness.
But even in such an unpredictable situation, the anti-aircraft missile forces of the Russian Aerospace Forces and Air Defense troops have a decent response in the form of the S-300PM-1, S-400 “Triumph”, S-300V4, Buk-M3, which can easily intercept 227-mm rockets of the M30/31A1 family with an effective reflecting area in the order of 0.05 sq. m., as well as operational tactical missiles ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) with RCS (Radar Cross-Section) of close to 0.2-0.3 sq. m., because the radar illumination and guidance 92N6E, 9S32M and 9S36M of these complexes (according to official figures quoted on websites such as Vestnik PVO and Rocket Technology (both sites in Russian only)) provide the ability to lock-on targets with a radar cross-section of 0.02-0.05 sq. m. More importantly, despite the smaller radar cross-section of the M31A1 missiles than the separate tank brigades of ATACMS, the former are clearly unable to perform anti-missile manoeuvres, and therefore destroying them will be much easier. Conclusion: in most episodes to intercept one non-manoeuvring URS M30/31A1 GMLRS one anti-aircraft guided missile 48N6E/DM, 9M93M or 9M317M will be enough. If we also take into account the presence in the network-centric echeloned air defense the Pantisr-S1, which in practice confirmed the possibility of destroying even smaller 122mm unguided missiles of type 9M22U Grad systems, the reliable “umbrella” missile defense shield for our military group in Crimea is provided even in the most unpredictable circumstances.
At the same time, it would be very naïve to believe that the current missile ammunition set of 6- charging HIMARS launchers and 12-charging PU M270 MLRS will remain unchanged, allowing our anti-aircraft missile systems to quickly take countermeasures. The first warning of the upcoming “amplification” of HIMARS and MLRS was an ambitious project of longer-range separate tank brigades LRPF (“Deep Strike”) with a reduced radar signature and increased to 2000 m/s cruising speed. We have considered the possibilities of this product in one of our previous reviews. Today we will recall another, no less ambitious and dangerous for air defense, the project of modernisation of weapons for multiple launch rocket systems HIMARS and MLRS.
We are talking about “crossing” the standard 227mm unguided rocket projectile M2A1/2 with stealth planning-controlled bombs GBU-39B, and so there was a unique two-stage “smart” projectile GLSDB (Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb). The first firing tests of the GLSDB prototype were conducted in February 2015, which for the first time provided the specialists of the American corporation Boeing, Swedish SAAB and Norwegian NOBLE (Norwegian Battle Lab & Experiment) comprehensive information about the behaviour of the GBU-39B “Small Diameter Bomb” at high supersonic speeds. This was enough to continue the work.
Almost four years later, on October 30, 2018, during the module with 6 227mm TPK for the GLSDB missiles demonstration at the exhibition in the Norwegian Trondheim, representatives of NOBLE announced the next stage of GLSDB firing tests, which are scheduled for Autumn 2019. Apparently, the programme reached the finish line and after the 20s, new missiles can begin entering the service of the HIMARS and MLRS operator countries. What is known about the missile? Its first stage, represented by the extended solid-propellant rocket engine of the M26 ER-MLRS rocket, will accelerate the GLSDB to a speed of 90-1200 m/s and “throw” into the middle layers of the stratosphere (to a height of 15-25 km). Given the fact that the SDB bomb, together with a heat-resistant fairing container for protection from aerodynamic heating during acceleration will weigh no more than 130 kg (19% lighter than the “native” combat part of the M26 projectile), the first stage can give the container with GBU-39B significantly better speed capabilities than the usual unguided missile. Further, the upper stage of the M26 projectile will be fired back, and the container with the bomb will continue to move along the ballistic trajectory with a decrease in speed and climb.
When passing the 2000-2300-km/h mark, the container will open, after which the “narrow bomb” will begin an independent controlled flight, even with the possibility of changing to an overriding target trajectory (of course, only after equipping the radio module with information exchange on the radio channel of the Link-16 network). The most important distinctive quality of the GLSDB is also the possibility of flying over the target with a further impact from a completely unpredictable air direction. Even more alarming is the fact that in the final stage of the flight (planning) the SDB bomb is a “cold body”, which is not detected by means of optoelectronic complexes operating in the infrared range, while the EPR in 0.01-0.015 sp. m. allows its detection by the radar guidance 1PS2-1E “Helmet” complex “Shell-S1” from a distance of no more than 5-7 km. This suggests one thing, at night, or in difficult weather conditions, when the “Shell-S1” is not able to use the TV channel guidance module 10ES1-E, several GBU-39B bombs can fly to the area of the “Shells” battery positions at an altitude of 10 km (remaining invisible to radar or optoelectronic means), and then dive into the “dead funnel”. An even worse situation for us will be observed in case of an attack on the SAM “Tor-M2U”, in which the “dead funnel’ is a cone with an angle width of 50 degrees: it will be easier to penetrate into this “narrow bomb” cone.
To disrupt the process of the GBU-39B SDB-1 bomb in the battlefield area (approach to the target) is quite real. To do this, it is necessary to deploy near air defenses and strategically important military facilities the electronic warfare complex “Resident”, which suppresses the GPS-guidance receiver mounted on the bomb. As for the interception of the bomb by means of SAMS S-300PM-1, S300V4 and even S-400, it will not be easy to realise this, since the EPR of the blueprint of the bomb (0.015 sq. m.) is less than the indicators of the reflecting area processed for these systems declared by the developer.
And even if the radar illumination and guidance data of the SAM will be able to “capture” the blueprint unit of the GLSDB advanced missiles steadily escorting it up to the moment of destruction by the anti-aircraft 48N6DM and 9M83M missiles would be problematic, since the enemy has advance aviation container stations, electronic warfare type AN/ALQ-249 “Next Generation Pod” that can put a powerful simulation sighting frequency and noise interference. It will be very difficult to allocate a miniature SDB against the background of these interferences to “three hundred” and “four hundred”. The SAM S-350 “Vityaz” can provide a more confident counter to the impact of the GLSDB equipped with a more modern and noise-protected multi-functional radar with AFAR 50N6, but the situation with the arrival of these anti-aircraft missile units complexes into service we do not even want to mention.