US eyes long-range rockets for Ukraine as arms supplies dwindle

The Pentagon is considering a proposal to supply Ukraine with small, cheap precision bombs mounted on widely available rockets, which would allow Kyiv to strike deep behind Russian lines as the West struggles to meet demand for more weapons.

US and allied military inventories are dwindling, and Ukraine faces an increasing need for more sophisticated weapons as the war progresses.

Boeing’s proposed system, called a Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), is one of about half a dozen plans to produce new munitions for Ukraine and US allies in Eastern Europe, they said. industry sources.

GLSDB could be delivered in the spring of 2023, according to a document reviewed by the Reuters news agency and three people familiar with the plan. It combines the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in US inventories.

Doug Bush, the US Army’s top arms buyer, told reporters at the Pentagon last week that the military was also looking to ramp up production of 155mm artillery shells, which are currently made only in facilities by allowing defense contractors to build them.

The invasion of Ukraine has increased demand for US-made weapons and ammunition, while US allies in Eastern Europe are “placing a lot of orders” for a variety of weapons to supply Ukraine, Bush added.

“It’s about getting quantity at low cost,” said Tom Karako, an expert on weapons and security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He said falling US inventories help explain the rush to get more weapons now, saying stocks are “going down relative to the levels we like to have on hand and certainly to the levels we’re going to need to deter a conflict with China.

Karako also noted that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan left many air-dropped bombs available. They cannot easily be used with Ukrainian aircraft, but “in the current context, we should look at innovative ways to convert them into standoff capability.”

‘Most appropriate systems’

Although a handful of GLSDB units have already been manufactured, there are many logistical obstacles to formal procurement.

Boeing’s plan requires a price discovery waiver, which exempts the contractor from an in-depth review to ensure the Pentagon gets the best possible deal. Any deal would also require at least six suppliers to expedite shipments of their parts and services to produce the weapon quickly.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman declined to comment on providing any “specific capabilities” to Ukraine, but said the United States and its allies are “identifying and considering the most appropriate systems” that would assist Kyiv.

Although the United States has rejected requests for the ATACMS missile with a 297 km (185 mile) range, the GLSDB’s 150 km (94 mile) range would allow Ukraine to hit valuable military targets that have been out of reach and help continue pressing his counterattacks. by disrupting Russian rear areas.

GLSDB is made jointly by Saab AB and Boeing Co and has been in development since 2019, long before the invasion, which Russia calls a “special military operation.” In October, SAAB CEO Micael Johansson said of the GLSDB: “We are imminently expecting contracts shortly.”

$40,000 each

According to the document, a Boeing proposal to the US European Command (EUCOM), which oversees weapons heading to Ukraine, the main components of the GLSDB would come from current US stores.

The M26 rocket engine is relatively plentiful, and the GBU-39 is around $40,000 each, making the complete GLSDB inexpensive and its major components readily available. Although arms manufacturers are struggling with demand, those factors make it possible to produce weapons in early 2023, albeit at a low production rate.

GLSDB is GPS-guided, can overcome some electronic interference, can be used in all weather conditions, and can be used against armored vehicles, according to the SAAB website. The GBU-39, which would function as the warhead for the GLSDB, has small folding wings that allow it to glide for more than 100 km if dropped from an aircraft and targets as small as 1 meter (3 feet) in diameter.

At a production facility in rural Arkansas, Lockheed Martin is stepping up efforts to meet growing demand for mobile rocket launchers known as HIMARS, which have been successful in hitting Russian supply lines, command posts and even individual tanks. The number one US defense contractor is working through supply chain issues and labor shortages to double production to 96 launchers a year.

HIMARS fires Guided Multiple Rocket Launch System (GMLRS) missiles, which are GPS-guided projectiles with 90 kg (200 lb) warheads. Lockheed Martin makes about 4,600 missiles a year; more than 5,000 have been shipped to Ukraine so far. The United States has not disclosed how many GMLRS rounds have been supplied to Ukraine.

Repurposing weapons for regular military use is not a new tactic. The NASAMS anti-aircraft system, developed by Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace and Raytheon, uses AIM-120 missiles, originally intended to be fired from fighter jets at other aircraft. Another weapon, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), ubiquitous in US inventories, is a standard unguided bomb that has been fitted with fins and a GPS guidance system.