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 reection 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 airow 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 ofcials 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. Thens, mounted on the bomb casing ina cruciform conguration, 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.”