The Ukrainian Air Force can now employ Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range precision-guided bombs, or JDAM-ERs, against Russian forces, says the U.S. Air Force's top officer in Europe. Ukraine's stockpile of these bombs, which can hit targets up to 45 miles away thanks to their pop-out wing kits, is currently relatively small. However, they could already present real problems for Russia's military as The War Zone has previously explored in detail.
U.S. Air Force Gen. James Hecker, head of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), as well as NATO's Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA), provided details about Ukraine's use of the JDAM-ER at a media roundtable that The War Zone and other outlets attended earlier today. The roundtable occurred on the sidelines of the 2023 Air and Space Forces Association's Warfare Symposium, which opened today in Aurora, Colorado.
"Recently, we've just gotten some precision munitions [to Ukraine] that had some extended range and go a little bit further than the gravity drop bomb and has precision [guidance]," Hecker said. "That's a recent capability that we were able to give them probably in the last three weeks."
Gen. Hecker further confirmed to The War Zone that he was specifically speaking about the JDAM-ER. His comment about these weapons arriving in Ukraine around three weeks ago also aligns almost perfectly with Bloomberg's initial report that the U.S. military was working to deliver them, which was published on February 21.
Standard JDAM kits are designed to be mated to various types of Mk 80-series dumb bombs, and other munitions designed around that same form factor, transforming them into precision-guided weapons. The complete JDAM kit consists of a new tail, 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 typical JDAM can, depending on the altitude at which it is released, hit targets up to 15 miles away. The JDAM-ER's addition of the wing kit extends the weapon's range to some 45 miles.
The exact configuration of the JDAM-ERs that Ukraine has received so far is unclear. Gen. Hecker also referred to them using the designation GBU-62. However, the only previously known variant of the GBU-62 appears to be the GBU-62(V)1/B, also known as the Quickstrike-ER, which combines the JDAM-ER kit with the 2,000-pound class Mk 64 Quickstrike naval mine. You can read more about that particular pairing here.
Though based on Mk 80-series bombs, Quickstrike mines are not intended for use as general-purpose strike weapons. It seems more likely that the JDAM-ERs for Ukraine have more traditional bombs at their core. There is the possibility that the 'warheads' could be Quickstrike mines converted back into standard bombs.
It's also not clear what platforms Ukrainian forces are using to deliver these weapons. Gen. Hecker brought up the JDAM-ER immediately after highlighting the integration of U.S.-made AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM) onto Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker fighters. Given the existing work that would have had to have been done to allow those Soviet-era jets to fire AGM-88s – something The War Zone has explored in depth in the past – it is possible, if not probable that they are the ones now dropping JDAM-ERs. MiG-29s and Su-27s also simply represent the bulk of Ukraine's tactical aviation fleets. A limited number of Su-24 Fencers could also be hosts and even Su-25 Frogfoots, to a lesser degree.
Hecker also stressed that the total number of JDAM-ERs that Ukraine currently has is limited. "They have enough to do a couple of strikes," he said.
The USAFE head's confirmation that Ukrainian forces are fielding JDAM-ERs comes as speculation has already been building that multiple videos that have emerged on social media in recent days could show instances of these weapons being used. The War Zone cannot readily verify whether the clips seen below do indeed show JDAM-ER strikes, but we do know now that this is a definite possibility.
Even a small number of JDAM-ERs will present new challenges for Russian forces. As The War Zone has noted in the past, a standard JDAM provides a precision-guided fire-and-forget weapon that an aircraft can launch at fixed targets in any weather and then immediately turn away to put distance between it and enemy defenses. The INS portion of the guidance package means that the bomb should retain a significant degree of accuracy even if the GPS signal is jammed or otherwise lost. The JDAM-ER's wing kit then expands the reach of the weapon and helps further improve survivability.
At today's media roundtable, Gen. Hecker specifically noted that JDAM-ER gives Ukrainian forces the ability to hit entirely new target sets that may be beyond the reach of existing air-launched weapons and ground-based systems, including U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and variants and derivatives of the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) provided by other countries.
HIMARS and MLRS are among Ukraine's farthest-reaching precision-strike weapons, but the maximum range of their rockets is around 43 miles. On top of that, they contain 200-pound class warheads. Ukraine's JDAM-ERs could potentially be up to 2,000-pound class types, giving much more destructive capability and drastically expanding what target sets it can reliably destroy.
The head of USAFE did acknowledge that the circumstances the Ukrainian Air Force is currently facing could prevent JDAM-ERs from being used out to their full range.
"I don't want to get into the exact tactics... but obviously, the lower you are, and the further away from the surface to air missiles that can detect you because of the curvature of the earth" affect how far the bomb can travel, Gen. Hecker explained. "There are tactics where you can go in low and do some things... and get back."
The War Zone has noted in the past that Ukrainian pilots might still be able to get a significant portion of the extended range the JDAM-ER offers by releasing the bomb via a pop-up maneuver and lofting it to the target. This would allow the aircraft carrying the weapon to stay at lower altitudes, helping to conceal it from enemy air defenses, for the majority of the sortie, just as Gen. Hecker described.
Whatever the case, Ukrainian forces now have the means to put entire new sets of targets — including bridges, large structures, dispersed air defense emplacements, and hardened fortifications — at risk with JDAM-ERs and may be doing just that already.
Howard Altman contributed to this report.
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