On February 3, Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder confirmed that the United States was sending a type of munition called Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs to Ukraine, among other equipment and weapons. The bombs will expand what Ukraine can do with existing weapons and form part of an overall arms buildup that should allow Ukraine to more effectively pursue its war to repel the Russian invasion, which began in February from last year.
“It gives them a longer range capability,” says Ryderwho added that the weapons will help Ukraine “to carry out operations to defend its country and to regain its sovereign territory in the areas occupied by Russia”.
The GLSDB, developed by US defense giant Boeing and Swedish defense manufacturer Saab, is a combination of a bomb with wings and a rocket engine. The rocket motors are the same as those used for the thrusters of an artillery rocket called M26 Multiple Launch Rocket System. What the GLSDB adds to this rocket booster is a 250-pound bomb with a winged guidance system. These wings expand in flight, expanding the weapon from a 9.5 inch diameter to a flying bomb with a wingspan of over 5 feet.
In other words, this bomb goes out of a tube like a rocket, flies like a small plane, then explodes like a bomb. This distinguishes it from other bombs, which are dropped from aircraft, or other artillery shells, which return to the ground after launch.
The bomb features inertial guidance, which can plot the trajectory of the bomb based on the distance and direction it has traveled since launch, as well as GPS guidance. To protect against electronic interference, the ground-launched small diameter bombs include features to block jamming and to block spoofing, or the injection of false coordinates into its navigation. Counter Sophisticated Russian electronic warfare toolsit is important to ensure that the bombs follow the intended trajectories.
But what really sets the GLSDB apart from other artillery shells is its range: 93 miles or 150 kilometers. Guided rocket fire, HIMARS have a range of 43 miles. The GLSDB more than doubles this range. Artillery can be useful in winning fights on static fronts, as it punishes hostile advances and can counter enemy artillery. Longer-range artillery also allows Ukrainian forces to attack positions farther from the front lines, especially supply depots and ammunition stockpiles. When Ukraine launched its counter-offensives in the fall of 2022, the increased range of the HIMARs made it difficult for Russian defenders to hold territory and also denied supplies from other Russian units as reinforcements.
“We have focused on several key areas over the past few months to support Ukraine, particularly air defense capabilities, armor capabilities, long-range fire capabilities, and then combined with training to enable them to have the capability to conduct combined armament operations”, says Ryder.
THE GLSDB announcement, clearly described as “precision-guided rockets”, came with a longer list of additional material war aid from the United States. This includes ammunition for HIMARS, for other artillery pieces, and for mortars, a small soldier-portable weapon that can drop bombs over obstacles and into trenches. The notice included anti-personnel weapons like Claymores, a close cousin of landmines, and heavy machine guns. Apart from the rockets, these weapons would all be familiar in their form, generally speaking, to soldiers fighting in the trenches of the First World War. (Rocket artillery dates from World War II.) Given the static fronts and held trenches in the Donbass, and especially around the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, it’s a familiar style of warfare.
What’s newer are tools like thermal imaging sights paired with machine guns, which give users a powerful advantage in nighttime battles. Then there are MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which have been used extensively by the United States to protect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from roadside bombs; these are sent to Ukraine where they can serve as useful transportation, especially in areas that may contain landmines or unexploded bombs.
Counter-drone tools and ammunition, designed to spot the small flying scouts of observing soldiers in the field, are a modern reality paired with an older style of warfare. These, alongside anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons, are part of the larger combined arms package being prepared by the United States and others for Ukraine. In the wake of January great effort to send heavy armored tanks to Ukrainethe nation should be in a better position to launch counter-offensives and repel invading forces.
Weapons like the ground-launched small diameter bomb, which extend the range of how and where Ukraine can strike, should give its army added depth and punch as it picks battles in the months ahead.