By Guy Dorrell, Defence Correspondent @GuyDorrellEsq
Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s conflict and subsequent incursion into Palestine, has brought out many distressing images; destruction of buildings, infrastructure, hospital patients, the elderly and in particular, images of injured or killed children have featured heavily. Sharing of these images may have been the definitive use of social media within a conflict so far.
Some of the images have become iconic – the harrowing picture of Ismail Mahmoud Bakir, Ahed Atef Bakir, Zakariya Ahed Bakir and Mohammad Ramiz Bakir’s bodies strewn across the beach that, moments before they had been playing football upon, is one.
Another, less circulated, but no less iconic image is that of a traffic crossing complete with cars, motorcycles and pedestrians crowded around a shop on the corner of the crossing.
In the foreground of the image is what appears at first glance to be the only point of any interest; a man is cupping his hands over his ears and stooping slightly. On closer inspection the main interest of the image becomes clear – it is the reason that the man in the foreground is covering his ears. In the top left of the photo, spearing downwards, less than half a second from impact is a bomb. It is a 2000lb, laser-guided GBU-10 Paveway II manufactured in the United States by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
The cost of war
Each one costs in excess of $23,000 dollars to produce; the Palestinian average annual salary is just $20,800. In the first two days of the conflict, Israel dropped 400 tonnes of munitions on to Gaza, the equivalent of 440 Paveway II bombs, or $10.1 million in those alone.
Paveway IIs are a thing of fearsome weapon, with the kind of beauty that highly destructive things often possess. In profile it looks something like a space rocket from Tintin’s Destination Moon. In other aspects, it looks quite similar to old-fashioned bombs that newsreels show falling from aircraft bomb bays.
It is not like them in any other respect.
It is a ‘smart bomb’; while it isn’t propelled by anything other than gravity- just like dumb bombs – its fins will steer it onto its target. It is laser guided; sensors in the bomb adjust the angle of its descent to bring it onto target. Improvements in the software and optics have improved the radius of accuracy within which the 14 feet-long bomb will land, from 310 feet for dumb munitions, down to a radius of just 3.6 feet; sufficiently accurate for the world’s militaries to designate the Paveway a precision munition. The range of the bomb in freefall onto a target eight nautical miles, ensuring a high-degree of safety for the aircraft releasing it.
The laser guidance system works by sensors in the bomb – the ‘seeker’ head – detecting and heading for the glow of laser light bouncing off the target object – the ‘sparkle’. Much the same effect of laser sparkle can be seen at self-service checkouts in supermarkets where scanning an irregularly shaped object causes the laser light to refract at irregular angles. Laser light only works effectively in clear weather, however with Palestine averaging 13 hours of sunshine per day in the summer, laser designation is seldom compromised here.
As with all the Paveway family of bombs, Paveway II is designed to penetrate and destroy hard targets up to hardened bunker strength, where a variant for that specific purpose is available – the ‘bunker buster’.
Detonation is upon impact, with a minimum of 535 lbs of explosive inside detonating and the bomb casing disintegrating to form shrapnel. A Paveway’s 2000 lb bomb will create a crater approximately 50 feet wide, if the detonation is in the open, with a blast radius for shrapnel of anything up to 1100 feet, again where the bomb detonates in the open.
Even without shrapnel, the concussive trauma of a quarter of a tonne of explosives will kill people caught within a sizeable blast radius. With the disintegration of the bomb casing effectively acting as a crude shaped-charge, a direct hit from a Paveway II is sufficient for a first hit kill on a 41 tonne T-72 main battle tank.
All of which should prompt debate on the ethics of using these weapons in areas known to be holding civilians. Militaries are quick to point out, when these bombs are deployed, that they are precision munitions; however they are noticeably more reticent to draw the distinction that must be made between precision of delivery and indiscriminacy of effect.
For one literal snapshot in time, the world saw the reality of modern warfare – a technological triumph allowing protagonists to assault an area with little chance of themselves being at risk. Added to this, there is the PR worth of being able to boast of pinpoint accuracy, thereby supposedly minimising collateral damage. But as with all warfare, truth is the first casualty and in this iconic image, it took a one tonne, laser-guided weapon to deliver that cliché.