The Pentagon could soon supply Ukraine with inexpensive bombs fitted onto rockets that are widely available. The move would allow Ukraine to hit targets far behind Russian lines as the West faces dwindling weapons inventories.
The Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) proposed by Boeing, is one of about a half-dozen plans for getting new munitions into production for Ukraine and the US’s Eastern European allies, industry sources say. That’s bad news for Russia whose military death count should top 90,000 by week’s end.
GLSDB could be delivered as early as spring 2023, according to a document reviewed by Reuters news agency and three people familiar with the plan. It combines the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in US inventories.
Doug Bush, the US Army’s chief weapons buyer, told reporters at the Pentagon last week the military was also looking at accelerating production of 155mm artillery shells – currently manufactured only at government facilities – by allowing defense contractors to build them.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine drove up demand for American-made weapons and ammunition, while US allies in Eastern Europe are “putting a lot of orders” in for a range of arms as they supply Ukraine, Bush added.
“It’s about getting quantity at a cheap cost,” said Tom Karako, a weapons and security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He said falling US inventories help explain the rush to get more arms now, saying stockpiles are “getting low relative to the levels we like to keep on hand and certainly to the levels we’re going to need to deter a China conflict”.
Karako also noted the US exit from Afghanistan left lots of air-dropped bombs available. They cannot be easily used with Ukrainian aircraft, but “in today’s context we should be looking for innovative ways to convert them to standoff capability”.
Update from Britain’s SkyNews:
Although the United States has rebuffed requests for the 297km (185-mile) range ATACMS missile, the GLSDB’s 150km (94-mile) range would allow Ukraine to hit valuable military targets that have been out of reach, and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russian rear areas.
GLSDB is GPS-guided, can defeat some electronic jamming, is usable in all weather conditions, and can be used against armoured vehicles, according to SAAB’s website. The GBU-39 – which would function as the GLSDB’s warhead – has small, folding wings that allow it to glide more than 100km if dropped from an aircraft and targets as small as 1 metre (3 feet) in diameter.
At a production plant in rural Arkansas, Lockheed Martin is redoubling efforts to meet surging demand for mobile rocket launchers known as HIMARS, which have been successful in hitting Russian supply lines, command posts, and even individual tanks. The number one US defence contractor is working through supply chain issues and labour shortages to double the production to 96 launchers a year.
–Reuters and wire services