Gen. Breedlove, Syria Refugee Crisis & Russian Military Technology

Continuing with Gen. Breedlove: “Putin weaponizing migrant crisis to hurt Europe”,  to what extent are Russian atrocities in Syria intentional? The first factor to consider is limitations of Russian military technology. To a reader of humanistic mindset, it may seem needlessly mechanical. But ours is a world of physical limitations, which, incorporated into the psyche, become disguised, their origins lost.

But we should attempt to distinguish as much as possible what proportion of collateral civilian deaths are tactically desired, and what are considered acceptable costs. To  humble ourselves, this is an excerpt written by a survivor of the Dresden bombings between 13 and 15 February 1945:

We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.

These were the acceptable costs of our fathers.  The extent to which the terrible civilian toll was intentional, versus acceptable collateral, is still argued. American and British bombers dropped dumb bombs, the only ones in common use at the time.   Quoting from Environmental Information for Naval Warfare, where “gravity” equates with “dumb”, Table B-1 offers:
Accuracy of Air-Delivered Weapons Since World War II
  • World War II       Gravity bomb                   1000 meters
  • Korea                      Gravity bomb                      300 meters
  • Vietnam                Gravity bomb                       100 meters
  • Desert Storm     laser guided                                8 meters
  • Desert Storm   Tomahawk  Block II               10 meters
  • Bosia                      Tomahawk Block III                 3 meters

These are the numbers of interest to the West. One category is missing, the stabilized aircraft platform, still used by the Russians in combination with dumb bombs. It was last deployed by the West in Desert Storm. Then, as with the current Russian case, there was a huge stockpile of dumb bombs, a leftover of the Reagan buildup.

The myth of the Norden bombsight, that it could hit a pickle barrel, is exposed in the table: 1000 meters. Anyone who has flown knows that air has bumps. An airframe flexes, vibrates, and twists. The aircraft pitches, yaws, and rolls. Engine output varies. Wind and air density shift constantly.  Requiring a human bombardier as the temporary pilot, with aircraft position subject to the crude navigational methods of the time, the claims of Norden were vitiated.

The stabilized aircraft platform is an evolution of the Norden concept taken to the nth degree. Stabilization does not actually mean that the aircraft is flying straight, level, and at a constant speed. It’s a blanket term, meaning that  that not only is the aircraft controlled by autopilot, but also, every variable is known: the position by GPS, velocity, and all the deltas, computed by the aircraft computer which releases the bomb. Modern control theory, with Kalman filters, makes this possible. It’s the stuff of textbooks.

By western standards, this is very obsolete. An aircraft can’t really be stabilized, and, once the bomb is released, every error in the calculation, to say nothing of the winds and the weather, make the impact point a matter of chance. All dumb bombs miss. Table B-1 gives the expected distance of the miss, “circular-error-probable”, or CEP.  The chance that any one dumb bomb would actually hit the target are, statistically, minuscule.

The U.S. solution to the huge legacy stockpile of dumb bombs is the JDAM, one of the greatest stories of cost effective weapons systems. It’s a cheap (around $50K) kit that bolts onto a dumb bomb, with a choice of GPS, inertial, and laser seekers.  It guides the bomb in flight by moving the vanes on the back of the bomb. The bomb has no rocket, only an intelligent algorithm to adjust the  glide so that the altitude of the bomb happens to be zero at the point of impact. For this miracle, we can thank Rudolf E. Kálmán, whose math is omnipresent in modern industry and gadgetry.

Next, the Russian SVP-24 “super” bomb sight.


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