Ukrainian forces fired ground-launched small diameter bombs for the first time

Ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) developed by a joint venture of American Boeing Company and Swedish Saab Group.

Ukraine’s American-made, ground-launched glide-bombs are in action—and at a critical time.

The 600-pound, 90-mile-range glide-bombs might help to compensate for a dire shortage of 155-millimeter howitzer shells. But only somewhat. The glide munitions aren’t artillery. And it would be a waste to pretend they are.

The first evidence of a GLSDB raid appeared online on Wednesday. Russian troops posted a video depicting a boxful of rocket fragments that seems to include a GLSDB’s distinctive tail section.

The Russians claimed the wreckage was from a Tuesday strike near Kreminna in eastern Ukraine. It’s possible the strike in question targeted a pair of Russian rocket-launchers just east of Zhytlivka. A Ukrainian drone was overhead, observing, when the launchers exploded in a dramatic fireball.

If the Zhytlivka strike indeed involved GLSDBs, it may have been a curious choice. Zhytlivka is just a few miles from the front line near Kreminna, begging the question: why waste 90-mile deep-strike munitions on a relatively shallow raid?

It’s possible there were extenuating circumstances. Maybe a GLSDB launcher happened to be in the right place at the right time for a short-notice strike on a clutch of Russian launchers. Maybe adjacent tube-artillery batteries were so low on shells that it actually made sense to expend GLSDBs.

With Republicans blocking U.S. aid to Ukraine, Ukrainian batteries are down to firing just a few thousand shells a day, perhaps a fifth what Russian batteries fire.

Kyiv is fortunate that the administration of U.S. president Joe Biden paid U.S. defense firm Boeing and its partner, Swedish company Saab, to develop the GLSDB for Ukraine a year ago, before Republicans began leveraging their slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The GLSDB contract was worth $33 million. A single GLSDB—a GBU-39 winged glide-bomb attached to a surplus M26 rocket motor—costs just $40,000.

Ukraine might get many hundreds of GLSDBs. Assuming, of course, Boeing and Saab didn’t spend most of that $33 million on development.

The munitions apparently launch from special containers that could be towed by any truck, although Saab claimed a tracked M270 or wheeled High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System mobile launcher—Ukraine has dozens of each—also would be compatible with the GLSDB.

Five or six hundred GLSDBs can’t replace the 5,000 or 6,000 so 155-millimeter shells Ukrainian artillery batteries happily would lob at the Russians every day, given an adequate supply of ammo from allied countries. At present, the Ukrainians might be firing 2,000 shells a day.

Yes, most 155-millimeter artillery is unguided and ranges just 15 miles or so with a 25-pound explosive fill. The GPS-guided GLSDB by contrast ranges six times as far with eight times as much explosives.

But tube artillery might be most decisive when it targets enemy forces in the hours before an attack, as they gather out in the open miles behind the front line and begin their movement to contact. A barrage of a few dozen shells can wreck vehicles and kill infantry across thousands of square yards.

GLSDBs by contrast might be most decisive while striking point targets deep behind the front line: supply depots, ammunition trains, command bunkers, air-defense radars. Targets whose relative rarity belies their importance to the overall Russian war effort.

In short, artillery is a day-to-day killer of combat forces across a wide area close to the front. Deep-strike munitions such as the GLSDB are for pinpoint raids targeting the basic infrastructure of mechanized warfare. The supply and command networks that support and direct the combat forces.

So maybe the Ukrainians launched a few of their GLSDBs at Russian rocket-launchers just a few miles from the front. But don’t expect a lot of short-range ground-launched glide-bomb strikes. That’s not what the weapons are for.

All that is to say, the arrival of GLSDBs doesn’t really solve Ukraine’s worsening artillery problem.

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