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Correll JT, Mar-2010. The Emergence of Smart Bombs - Precision-Guided Munitions in Vietnam Wrote the Book on Ground Attack, Air Force Magazine Vol. 93 No. 3

Correll JT, Mar-2010. The Emergence of Smart Bombs - Precision-Guided Munitions in Vietnam Wrote the Book on Ground Attack, Air Force Magazine Vol. 93 No. 3

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Published by: Foro Militar General on May 26, 2013
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AIR FORCE Magazine
 / March 2010
The Emergenceof SmartBombs
Precision-guided munitions in Vietnamwrote the book on ground attack.
By John T. Correll
Dragon’s Jaw bridge atThanh Hoa was the toughesttarget in North Vietnam. Itwas 540 feet long and crossedthe Song Ma, a river 70 miles south of Hanoi. A railroad track ran down themiddle, with a highway lane on eitherside. The bridge rested on a massivecenter pillar of reinforced concrete, 16feet in diameter. The abutments weresolidly anchored in the hills on bothsides of the river.This bridge was a replacement for theoriginal one built by the French beforeWorld War II. Viet Minh insurgentsmanaged to destroy the rst bridge in1945 by staging a collision in the centerof it by two locomotives loaded withexplosives. North Vietnamese leader HoChi Minh presided at the opening of thenew—and stronger—bridge in 1964.At the outset of the Vietnam War,the US Joint Chiefs of Staff rated theDragon’s Jaw as No. 14 on the list of the most important targets in North Viet-nam. It carried the only railroad in theNorth Vietnamese panhandle and was akey link in the supply route supportingthe war in the south. When the RollingThunder air campaign began in 1965,the bridge was selected for early attack.On April 3, 1965, Lt. Col. RobinsonRisner led a strike force of almost 80 air-craft from bases in Vietnam and Thailandagainst the Dragon’s Jaw. The actualattack was conducted by 31 F-105sfrom Korat Air Base in Thailand, half of them carrying Bullpup missiles andhalf with 750-pound general-purposebombs.Planners had expected the attack to drop the bridge. However, neitherthe missiles nor the bombs caused anyappreciable damage. One pilot saidthe Bullpups, which had lightweight250-pound warheads, simply “bouncedoff” the target.The next day, Risner led a restrikeby 46 F-105s. This time, they left theBullpups at home and hit the bridgewith some 300 bombs, but the resultswere no better than before. Two furtherstrikes in May closed the bridge brieyfor repairs. Large mines, dropped up-river by transport aircraft, oated intothe bridge abutments but they had littleeffect.By 1972, the Air Force and the Navyhad sent 871 sorties against the Dragon’sJaw, losing 11 aircraft but failing toknock out the bridge.In 1965, the Air Force did not have anyconventional weapons with a sufcientcombination of accuracy and power todestroy such targets as the Thanh Hoabridge. The standard munitions wereiron bombs, similar to those used inWorld War II. The Air Force had onlytwo guided air-to-surface missiles: theBullpup, which was controlled by radioand a joystick, and the Shrike, whichhomed on electronic emissions and wasused against surface-to-air missile sites.
The Problem of Precision
The quest for bombing accuracy wasan old story for the Air Force. The spotwhere an unguided gravity bomb hitsthe ground is a function of the directionand speed of the airplane at the point of release, the aerodynamics of the pro-
AIR FORCE Magazine
 / March 2010
 jectile, and the wind and atmosphericconditions while the bomb is in ight.A bomb dropped half a second too latecan miss its target by hundreds of feet.During World War II, it was popularto claim that Air Force bombardiers,equipped with the fabled Norden bomb-sight, could hit a pickle barrel fromhigh altitude. In actuality, the averageaccuracy for bombers in 1943 was1,200 feet, as measured by the standardcircular error probable, or CEP. Accu-racy improved to about 1,000 feet bythe end of the war as aircrews gainedprociency.For real precision, aiming was notenough. The munition had to be steered.Both the Germans and the Americansexperimented with radio-controlledweapons in World War II.In the Korean War, the Air Forcemated its Razon guidance system, whichcontrolled range and azimuth, to the12,000-pound British Tallboy bomb fora blockbuster called the Tarzon. B-29bombers dropped 30 Tarzons in Koreawith an average accuracy of 273 feet.Tarzon was devastating to bridges butit was unreliable and unstable, whichmade it hazardous to use.By the 1960s, the technology of terminal guidance for air-launchedmissiles had been well established.The Sidewinder air-to-air missile was aheat seeker. The Sparrow rode along aradar beam directed at enemy aircraft.The Shrike, the weapon of the WildWeasels, locked onto radar emissionsfrom SAM sites. The stage was set forthe emergence of precision-guidedbombs.However, “smart” bombs, unlikemissiles, have no propulsion systemsof their own. They are propelled onlyby gravity and the momentum of thelaunching aircraft. A seeker head locksonto the target and the ight path isadjusted by varying control ns andcanards on the bomb.
A close-up of the damaged Thanh Hoa Bridge shows the western span knocked off its concrete abutment.Above: The Dragon’s Jaw following the successful laser-guided missile strikes of May 13, 1972.
AIR FORCE Magazine
 / March 2010
The rst smart bomb was the NavyWalleye in 1967. It was a free-fallbomb with a television tracking sys-tem. It required sharp contrast to lock on to the target, and was often foiledby weather and the nature of targets inVietnam. At $35,000 a copy, it was fairlyexpensive. The Air Force developed itsown electro-optical glide bomb, calledthe Hobo (for Homing Bomb System).It had a larger warhead than Walleye,and was more accurate.
The Laser Solution
The big breakthrough in precision-guided munitions came with the laser-guided bomb. Numerous individuals andagencies had a hand in its development,but the key players were Col. JosephDavis Jr., vice commander of the AirProving Ground at Eglin AFB, Fla.,and Weldon Word, an engineer at TexasInstruments.Davis had come to Eglin initiallyas head of a detachment from USAF’sAeronautical Systems Division, ex-ploring for technologies that promisedimmediate improvements to air combatin Vietnam. Average CEP bombing ac-curacy at the beginning of the VietnamWar was 420 feet. In 1965, Davis waslooking for a weapon with the accuracyto hit routinely within 30 feet of a targetand powerful enough to destroy it. Hesaw promise in a concept suggested bybang name came from the noise madeby the switch from one position to theother. The bomb ew a zigzag courseto the target as the ns made a correc-tive switch every few seconds to bringthe laser reection back to the centerof the seeker head’s eld of view. Thebomb rotated slightly in ight to takesome of the edge off the undulations.The seeker head was in the nose of thebomb, inside an airow test probe. “Theprobe resembled a badminton birdie,and so from then on it was dubbed the‘birdie head,’ ” Word said. He proposedto build a dozen prototypes for $99,000.Air Force procurement ofcials haddoubts about the Texas Instrumentsconcept and solicited a competing offerfrom North American’s Autonetics divi-sion. North American’s design was morecomplex and included a gyroscope thatgave the bomb a smoother ight paththan the bang-bang course. However,the weapon cost three times more thanthe Texas Instruments PGM and it didnot do as well in testing.The contract was awarded to TexasInstruments in 1967.
From Zot to Pave Knife
The Air Force designated the initialversion of the LGB as Paveway andcombat-tested it in Vietnam from Mayto August 1968 with the 8th TacticalFighter Wing, ying from Ubon AirBase in Thailand.The original device used to sight andsteer the laser beam was fabricated by
Capt. Thomas Messett checks a 2,000-pound laser- guided bomb on his F-4.
Word, who drew on earlierresearch by the Army forlaser guidance of missiles.Word’s idea—pro-posed under a streamlinedprogram for small, fast-track projects developedfor less than $100,000—was a laser kit, consistingof seeker and guidancecomponents that could be“bolted on” to standardgravity bombs.The laser-guided bombrequired two airplanes.The designator airplanewould focus a tight laserbeam on the target, paint-ing it continuously andreflecting back outwarda cone of laser energycalled the basket.A second airplane,the shooter, would dropa bomb into the basket.The bomb’s seeker headlocked onto the laser il-lumination and homed onthe target.Except for the seeker head, all of thecomponents of Word’s laser kit wereoff-the-shelf items. The “bang-bang”guidance system and control ns wereadapted from the Shrike missile. Thens, mounted on the bomb casing ina cruciform conguration, could beswitched back and forth between twopositions, neutral and control. The bang-
The Zot laser designator was named after the sound effect attributed to the light- ning-fast tongue thrust of the anteater in Johnny Hart’s popular comic strip “B.C.” 

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