French Adding GPS to Paveway-II Bombs
Projects to give GPS-guided smart bombs dual-guidance capability are popular these days. Israel has developed its GPS/EO Spice bomb, the USA has Laser JDAMs, and Britain has cobbled together a Paveway II+ as an interim step while working on its own Paveway IV. The combination provides the improved accuracy and ability to hit moving targets offered by laser-guidance, with GPS available as a backup that allows the pilot to drop bombs even through weather conditions that would defeat lasers. While the Spice is entirely autonomous thanks to its use of cameras + image recognition technology as a final guidance corrective, the laser/GPS combination relies on either a targeting pod or another targeting laser source to light up its quarry for final adjustments. If weather conditions allow laser use closer to the ground, it may even be possible to receive all the benefits of dual laser/GPS guidance despite poor conditions at altitude.
Now StrategyPage reports that France is will be spending $22 million to switch out the guidance units, and upgrade its U.S. made Paveway IIs to dual laser/GPS mode. In addition to the targeting benefits above, this combination offers France in particular some operational advantages. The Armée de l’Air has been using laser-guided weapons in Afghanistan, and American Paveway IIs were picked because the Safran AASM bomb was late. The integration and testing cost is expected to be EUR 5 million for the Rafale. Unfortunately, the new Rafale fighters won’t have independent laser targeting capability until 2010, when Thales’ Damocles pods arrive. Instead, they’ve been relying on Mirage 2000Ds and Super Etendards equipped with older Atlis-II and PDL-CT pods to provide that surveillance, and using Link 16 et. al. to transfer the coordinates (interesting note re: Rafale F2 pilots’ use of binoculars as an equally valuable tool).
A quick program to add GPS capabilities to the Paveway-IIs would give the Rafales a whole new set of options, greatly increasing their flexibility.