France will start supplying Ukrainian forces with up to 50 Hammer precision-guided bombs, a unique rocket-boosted munition, every month. A new stream of dozens of these French-made bombs every month would be a boon for Ukraine's Air Force for getting at Russian forces at longer ranges while also reducing the risks to its pilots and aircraft.
The baseline 500-pound-class version of Hammer has a stand-off range of around 43 miles (70 kilometers), similar to that of Ukraine's U.S.-supplied winged Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range bombs, or JDAM-ERs, However, the French munition gets there in a different way that offers distinct advantages.
Sebastien Lecornu, France's Minister of the Armed Forces, disclosed his government's plans to send Hammers, which are also sometimes described as missiles, on a monthly basis to the Ukrainian military earlier today. In addition, Lecornu confirmed that at least 40 more SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missiles would be heading to Ukraine. He also said that France would be bumping up deliveries of badly needed 155mm artillery shells from 2,000 to 3,000 every month.
Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron had announced the planned delivery of the SCALP-EG missiles and "hundreds" of then-unspecified bombs to Ukraine.
Development of the original version of Hammer dates back the late 1990s. Hammer is actually an acronym standing for Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range and the weapon is also known by the French name Armement Air-Sol Modulaire (AASM; Modular Air-to-Ground Armament). French firm Safran now produces these weapons.
Hammer is also more of a conversion kit for existing dumb bombs, similar in many broad respects to the U.S.-designed JDAM. The baseline variant includes of a nose-mounted guidance section and tail-mounted range-extension kit (REK) attached to a NATO-standard 500-pound (250-kilogram) class iron bomb.
Hammer kits have also been developed for use together with 276-pound (100-kilogram), 1,100-pound (500-kilogram), and 2,200-pound (1,000-kilogram) bombs. Safran notes that Hammers can built around bunker buster type bombs like the 2,000-pound-class U.S. BLU-109/B, as well as general purpose high-explosive types.
The range extension section consists of a solid-fuel rocket. This gives 500-pound/250-kilogram class version, at least, a range of around 43 miles (70 kilometers), if not more, depending on the release envelope, according to Safran, but more on that later. Hammer munitions can also employed in an unpowered mode, with much reduced range, if desired.
The main form of guidance used on Hammer bombs of all types consists of a GPS-assisted inertial navigation system (INS) package that is designed to strike specific fixed target coordinates. Safran also offers multi-mode guidance options with either imaging infrared or semi-active laser homing added in, which enables the engagement of moving targets and helps improve overall accuracy. This also offers alternative guidance options in GPS-denied environments.
Hammer is currently in service with France's armed forces, as well as the air arms of Egypt, India, Morocco, and Qatar. French forces have employed these bombs in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
During NATO-led intervention against Libya in 2011, a French pilot at the controls of a Rafale fighter demonstrated the versatility of the weapon when they destroyed one of the Libyan Air Force's Soko G-2 Galeb jet trainers shortly after it landed. A U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft reportedly tracked the Libyan jet as it returned to its base in Misrata. The pilot of the French fighter then used their onboard targeting capabilities to determine the Galeb's position on the ground and launched a Hammer at it.
It's unclear what Ukrainian aircraft might be in line to carry Hammer bombs and how long it might take before Ukraine's pilots are ready to start employing them. Hammer is similar in size and gross weight to JDAM-ER, and is another weapon made by a NATO member. As such, it is possible that Ukrainian MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker fighters that are already configured to drop JDAM-ERs could be set up to employ Hammers with relatively limited additional time and effort. The JDAM-ERs for Ukraine have notably come along with specialized pylons that incorporate features that look to be tied to the weapon's guidance system, as you can read more about here.
At least some of Ukraine's Su-24 Fencer swing-wing combat jets have also received some level of modification to be able to employ French-supplied SCALP-EG cruise missiles, as well as virtually identical Storm Shadows from the United Kingdom. Ukraine's foreign allies and partners have helped with the integration of other guided air-launched munitions and specialized stores onto its aircraft in the past two years or so, too.
Safran has also already integrated Hammer onto versions of Lockheed Martin's F-16 Viper. Ukraine's Air Force is now in line to receive dozens of these fighters and could start flying them operationally later this year. The War Zone has explored in detail in the past about how the Vipers will be very valuable for Ukraine just in terms of the more modern missiles and bombs could come with them or be more easily integrated with them.
Regardless of the specific launching platform, Hammer, like JDAM-ER before it, would give Ukraine's Air Force a very valuable way of precisely engaging Russian targets, including those situated further back from the front lines. The stand-off range that Hammer would allow Ukrainian pilots to prosecute their targets while staying further away from enemy defenses, as well.
Hammer's rocket booster also gives the bomb unique benefits compared to JDAM-ER, which is unpowered and relies heavily on release altitude to reach its maximum stated stand-off range of around 45 miles (72 kilometers). Safran says the 500-pound/250-kilogram class version can still hit targets at least up to nine miles away (15 kilometers) when released from a lower altitude.
JDAM-ER also follows a downward slanting trajectory to its target, regardless of the release altitude. Safran says Hammer's guidance package and rocket booster mean that it can be fired up and over "rough terrain," which the launching platform can use to further shield itself from hostile forces.
The War Zone has pointed out in the past that using a pop-up maneuver could allow Ukrainian pilots to get more range out of JDAM-ER without needing to expose themselves as much. However, that tactic still requires getting to a certain altitude, even briefly, before the weapon can be released.
If Ukraine receives versions of Hammer with additional imaging infrared or laser guidance, this would further help ensure the bombs reach their targets. They have been reports that Russian forces have been able to use electronic warfare capabilities to throw Ukrainian munitions that use GPS-assisted INS guidance, including JDAM-ERs, off target. The munition could still glide toward its target using INS only, but its pinpoint accuracy would degrade the further it flies.
Laser guidance, of course, would require the launch platform to be closer to the target. A tertiary asset (such as a spotter team on the ground) positioned nearer to the target could also lase it.
Its not immediately clear what target types the imaging infrared seeker is geared toward, either.
If France sends versions of the Hammer built around larger bomb, this would also give Ukraine the ability to engage different kinds of targets than it can currently with 500-pound-class JDAM-ERs. For instance, versions built around larger penetrating bombs like the BLU-109/B could be employed against more hardened targets, including bridges.
Beyond Hammer's specific capabilities, the French pledge to supply 50 of these bombs every month starting at some point in the near future is very significant. In recent months, there have been concerns about foreign military aid for Ukraine from certain sources, including the United States, slowing or even coming to a halt completely, at least for a time.
A new avenue to acquire hundreds of additional precision-guided bombs can only help Ukraine's Air Force continue to keep up the pressure on Russian forces. It could also increase the willingness of commanders to employ these weapons against a wider array of target types knowing that more bombs are on the way.
All told, the French government's plan to start sending significant numbers Hammer bombs to Ukraine looks set to give the country's air force a major boost in firepower while also helping keep its valuable pilots and aircraft away from Russian threats.
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