Precision Guided Munitions
Precision Guided Munitions: The Gaza Strip is home to more than two million people. It is one of the most densely occupied places in the world. It is ruled by Hamas, a brutal authoritarian radical Islamic terrorist organization. There are two kinds of Gazans: those who support Hamas and those who are being held hostage by it. The State of Israel has unequivocally stated its goal to anyone who will listen that it intends to utterly destroy Hamas. How can Israel achieve its goal and still minimize to the greatest extent possible casualties of non-combatants – Gazans who are being terrorized by Hamas?
Before we continue, a critical point must be made: The lives – and deaths – of Gazan civilians are the sole responsibility of Hamas. When Hamas entered Israel on October 7 and savagely killed more than 1400 Israeli men, women, and babies, and took another more than 200 hostages back into Gaza, the responsibility for all subsequent casualties incurred, in Israel or in Gaza, lies squarely at the feet of Hamas. Add to the mix the fact that Hamas cynically uses civilians as human shields. An Israeli intelligence report released recently proves that Hamas leadership is hiding under the Shifa Hospital in Gaza where they are certain that Israel will never attack. This cynicism was glaringly evident on October 17, when a Hamas rocket exploded shortly after launch and landed in a hospital parking lot, killing dozens of bystanders. The rocket was launched less than a mile from the hospital in a location that the Hamas knew would never be bombed by the Israelis due to its close proximity to the hospital.
Nevertheless, the Israelis have several reasons to minimize non-combatant casualties. First and foremost, Judaism is a religion that extolls human life. The Torah commands us [Deuteronomy 30:19] “You shall choose life.” Indiscriminate killing is anathema to Jewish dogma. There are a number of secondary reasons for Israel’s desire to minimize non-combatant casualties. These include:
Obeying the rules of war known as "International Humanitarian Law" (IHL). IHL rules rely on a fundamental distinction between civilians and combatants. They require that military action should always be directed against combatants, never against civilians; civilians should always refrain from fighting; and combatants should act in a way which minimizes harm to civilians (Strangely, IHL rules are all-too-often casually disregarded, as the Ukraine-Russia conflict has shown so many times):
Retention of global support
Retention of support of Gazans not affiliated with Hamas who will potentially administer the Gaza Strip after Hamas is destroyed.
Israel maintains its sometimes-conflicting goals with extensive use of Precision Guided Munitions (PGM). Most munitions – rockets, bombs, or the like – will fly in the general direction they are pointed. A case-in-point is a barrage of Hamas rockets. The barrage is aimed at a large population center, say Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Ashdod. The rockets go up, they come down, and they explode. Their precision is highly limited, usually to about 5% of their range. For example, if Hamas aims a barrage at Tel Aviv, about 40 miles away from Gaza, about half of the rockets will fall within 2 miles from where they were aimed. The other half of the rockets will fall even further away. This lack of precision actually adds to the terror effect of the barrage. The terrorists do not know where the rockets will fall, nor do they care. They desire to strike fear into the hearts of the Israelis and until 2011, when Iron Dome entered the scene, they were quite successful.
Israel does not abide by indiscriminate fire. We do not launch rockets and drop bombs and hope they hit “near” their targets. A PGM, on the other hand, always falls very close to where it was aimed. Israel uses PGMs to ensure that the target is impacted precisely where it needs to be. By destroying the target and only the target, a PGM drastically reduces collateral damage and minimizes casualties among non-combatants.
A PGM requires a combination of intelligence – knowing where the target is – and biting edge technology to take the munition precisely where it needs to go. PGMs can be roughly divided into two categories: strategic weapons, usually launched by fighter aircraft, and tactical weapons, launched from a helicopter, boat, or a foot soldier.
Strategic weapons: Strategic weapons are used against large, fortified targets, including buildings and deeply buried underground tunnels such as the Gaza metro. Broadly speaking, Israel uses two families of air-launched strategic weapons. The first family consists of weapons guided by GPS. These include two American weapons, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). JDAM is made by Boeing and SDB is made by Boeing and RTX (formerly known as Raytheon). JDAM carries a warhead of between 500–2000 pounds of TNT and will impact less than 10 meters from its desired target. SDB is smaller than JDAM (Hence the “S” in “SDB”). SDB carries a warhead weighing about 250 pounds. It uses an advanced version of GPS, called “Differential GPS,” to increase its precision to about 1 meter. Its smaller warhead and greater precision reduce collateral damage even more than JDAM: Whereas JDAM will destroy a building, SDB will destroy a room. If we know exactly where in the building the terrorist is hiding, then we can use an SDB to eliminate him while sparing his neighbors. Otherwise, a JDAM will be used to take down the entire building. Israel has been using large numbers of JDAM and SDB in the current conflict and the US has already begun replenishing supplies.
The second family of air-launched strategic weapons is called SPICE (an acronym, standing for Smart, Precise, Intelligent, and Cost Effective). SPICE is produced by the Israeli RAFAEL company. SPICE uses a television camera to identify the target and does not require GPS. It uses advanced Artificial Intelligence to autonomously identify the target, even if it is occluded by smoke or clouds. SPICE’s ability to operate without GPS can be critical. Since October 7, GPS coverage in the north of Israel has been spotty, apparently as a result of IDF spoofing. My Waze application regularly tells me that I am in Beirut, leaving me to find my own way to my destination, as if I am living back in the year 2000. If you can imagine. SPICE variants run from 250 pounds all the way up to 2000 pounds. Their precision rivals that of SDB, making them that much more lethal. The size of the warhead is chosen to best prosecute the target: a SPICE-2000 will take out a large building, a SPICE-1000 will take out a weapon storehouse and a SPICE-250 will take out an apartment.
Tactical Weapons: Tactical weapons are used against smaller targets, including multi-barrel rocket launchers, individual rooms, and combatants. The IDF uses as their weapon of choice the SPIKE family of tactical weapons, produced by the RAFAEL company. The largest SPIKE variant is SPIKE NLOS. SPIKE NLOS can carry a 25-pound warhead more than 20 miles (more than 30 miles if launched by a helicopter) and then deposit it a desired location, say, through the third window from the left on the eighth floor of an apartment building, where Hamas terrorist leaders are known to be meeting (Hence the importance of real-time intelligence). SPIKE NLOS is a large weapon, weighing more than 150 pounds. The missile locks on the target and as the missile flies out to the target, the image of the target is beamed back to the user, who updates his lock point accordingly. SPIKE NLOS is launched from AH-64E Apache helicopters and from ships lying off the coast of Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea. SPIKE NLOS is so potent that the US has purchased more than 400 of the missiles and have modified 18 of their own Apache helicopters to operate it.
SPIKE LR2 is SPIKE NLOS’s “little brother.” Small enough to be carried on the back of a foot-soldier (Each soldier carries two missiles), SPIKE LR2 can carry a 5-pound warhead more than 3.5 miles. SPIKE LR2 comes with two different types of warheads, one optimized for tanks and the other optimized to penetrate reinforced concrete walls, exploding within the enclosure. SPIKE LR2 also beams back target imagery to the user, but whereas SPIKE NLOS uses a wireless data link, SPIKE LR2 uses a fiber-optic cable thinner than a human hair. It is one of two missiles in the world with this capability.
The baby of the SPIKE family is SPIKE FireFly. SPIKE FireFly is a killer drone. It was demonstrated in May 2022 to a USIEA congressional delegation on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. SPIKE FireFly flies above the battlefield, giving the warfighter a God's-eye view. It can patrol the battlefield while the operator sits at a safe distance. SPIKE FireFly can silently detect, lock on, and track the target and then attack at the push of a button. It has a warhead with the power of two hand-grenades, providing a lethal punch while keeping the warfighter out of harm’s way.
All variants of the SPIKE family have been used in the current conflict with great success. Recently,, the IDF revealed a new tactical PGM called “Iron Sting (Oketz Barzel)” produced by the Israeli Elbit company. Iron Sting takes a dumb mortar (essentially a grenade with wings) and integrates GPS and laser guidance to endow the weapon with pinpoint accuracy. Iron Sting is an exercise in contrast. Were the Hamas offered Iron Sting, even for free, chances are that they would refuse. Hamas mortars are so potent because nobody, not even the operator, knows where they will fall. This inherent lack of accuracy is what makes the mortar such a feared weapon. The operator does not care where it lands or who it kills or maims. The Hamas mortar is a random indiscriminate killing machine, and as such, is a favorite tool for terrorists. Israel engineers used their ingenuity to give that very same mortar the precision that Hamas neither wants or needs, enabling it to perform a mission that will enable the Israeli warfighter to take out the Hamas terrorist and only the Hamas terrorist.
There is a rub. We’re getting good at PGMs, perhaps too good. Recently, I was sent a film of a SPIKE LR2 shot from Gaza. The operator locked the missile’s seeker on a building and fired the weapon. As the weapon neared the building, features came into view – windows, a door, a sidewalk. The weapon officer instructed the operator to go to the first floor and aim for the last window on the right. About 3 seconds before impact, the window he was looking at came into view. He adjusted the lock point ever so slightly until the crosshairs were in the center of the window. The last picture in the video is the inside of a room that is about to be destroyed. A table. Chairs. A person. And then the video goes black. One less Hamas terrorist. I cynically looked at my coworker who was looking at the video clip over my shoulder and told him, “What a waste of a missile. I would have just used a JDAM and taken out the whole bloody building.” But then I thought again. That’s something a Hamas terrorist would have said. We’re better than that. We take life only when our own lives lie in the balance. We do what we need to do and only what we need to do, not one iota more. We are not naïve. We know that sometimes killing is a necessary evil. If it’s either us or them, then it’s them. Absolutely.
But only them.