Guided munitions history

Precision munitions have been hyped up at the very least since the obscene TV war for Kuwait in 1991.

Precision munitions were later a cornerstone of the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), along with improved communications, computers and sensors. The (assumed) ability to hit & destroy every detected (and identified) enemy is fascinating to many.

Let's use (military) history to enrich the perspective.

The only truly new guided weapons are those which employ active laser seekers (like LADAR, still quite uncommon), millimetre wavelength radar (imaging radar, actually already 1980's stuff) and satellite navigation (the famous JDAM family and similar).

1970's technologies are already very old news, and include imaging infrared guidance with lock on, electro-optical guidance with lock-on (both in the AGM-65 A and D Maverick missiles (D was developed in 70's and became operational in 80's), for example).
Laser beam riding missiles are also a product of the 1970's - like RBS 70.

1960's technologies include the semi-active laser (SAL) guidance that became so famous during the 1991 war - the first example was the Bolt-117 glide bomb of 1967, used in Vietnam.
SAL guided bombs, Mavericks and Tomahawk cruise missiles were the most significant of the guided weapons used against Iraq that caught so much attention in 1991 and later.

The 1950's technology advance was mostly semi-active radar homing (SARH), a principle usually employed against aerial targets and rarely against ships - an example is the AIM-7 Sparrow missile.

1940's technology includes manual electro-optical guidance, both by wire and by radio - Hs 293D. Another ground-breaking missile development was the automatic active radar homing Bat glide bomb. The first passive radar homing missile originated in WW2 as well, an experimental version of Bv246.
Several German companies developed also similar examples of passive infra-red seekers for guided weapons, although these weren't mounted on missiles any more.
Active and passive automatic homing for torpedoes was also developed in WW2.

Now the clou:

The technology for guided munitions is actually even much older than that.

Just a few years after the ground-laying research of electromagnetic waves by Heinrich Hertz began the development for radio remote controls.

A Christian Hülsmeyer got a patent for a device for the triggering of certain mechanism by electric waves in 1902.

The first experiment of wire guidance/remote control happened three decades earlier, basing on works of Werner von Siemens: A boat with wire-command electrical continuous current rudder control was tested - under remote control.

Imagine: We could have had remote-controlled steam boat bombs already in the 1870's (if a war at that time had involved Germany)! That's a time when most artillery was still muzzle-loaded with black powder!

The company Siemens-Schuckert worked (unsuccessfully) on remote-controlled torpedoes and air-dropped missiles during 1907 and 1911 - before the air got weaponized at all.

Wilhelm von Siemens worked on wire and radio-controlled missiles in the First World War with considerable success, including a radio remote control for a motor boat of the Fa. Röver (a company).
The more spectacular examples were remote-controlled gliders (radio or wire guidance) which carried torpedoes to be released close to the target ship.
This technology was revived for the Second World War, but the fire control problem was insurmountable for the human operator - the technology itself works. It's simply difficult to aim right with such a glider in the terminal phase and to time the release well.

This is an experimental 300 kg wide-guided glider, tested with airships in 1917:

Other examples weighed up to 1,000 kg.

The Funktechnische Versuchsabteilung (radio technology testing detachment) in Döberitz developed successfully a remote-controlled (radio) aircraft ("Fledermaus-Apparate", "bat devices") in 1918; five modified two-seater biplanes.

A little bit of military-technological history sometimes offers a valuable lesson.
We could have seen the first use of guided weapons in the First World War, at the same time when normal aerial bombs were introduced.
We could have seen World War 2 bombing campaigns based on guided weapons with a CEP of less than 10 m (X-1, AZON/RAZON; see also here) if the German air force wasn't so fixated on the pilot-skill focused dive bombing, the British Bomber Command not too cowardly for strategic daylight bombing and the U.S.American (Army) Air Force not so much focused on its complex Norden bombsight.

The technologies of WW2 had to be re-discovered for challenging targets in the Korean Air War and guided bomb technology (much neglected due to nuclear warheads that required little accuracy) got a well-deserved boost during the Vietnam War.

It was quite despicable negligence (in part because of a fixation on very low level flight) on our part that the share of guided munitions wasn't already dominant by 1991, but a mere few per cent.

Missile guidance technology was always ahead of its users; guided weapons history is a history of the failure to exploit available technology. In the 90's we were pretty much celebrating that the obvious and undeniable effects seen in hot wars against third rate opponents with mostly fine weather finally made us exploit the guided weapon principle to its full potential.

p.s.: This was only what I know about guided weapons, I suspect several foreign early developments and omitted less relevant Japanese and Russian WW2 developments.

No comments:

Post a Comment