The story of the attempt to disable the Kharkov armored plant once again raises the question of the need to increase the efficiency of Russian aviation, which is used very limitedly due to the unsuppressed enemy air defense. Missiles are, of course, good, but they can be intercepted by air defense systems and in a protracted conflict you will not have enough for all targets. What to do?
The author was prompted to write this publication by information that the Indian Air Force has learned to integrate high-precision Israeli SPICE-2000 glide bombs into Su-30MKI fighters produced under license. This is not the first time recently that foreign strike weapons have been successfully installed on Soviet and Russian-made carriers. Why might this experience be of interest to us?
The Su-30MKI was developed by the Sukhoi Corporation for the Indian Air Force in the mid-90s and is manufactured under license by the defense corporation Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The aircraft is interesting because it combines Russian, Indian, French and Israeli technologies at the same time. Technology. Built to Indian specifications, the fighter jet forms the backbone of the Indian Air Force. On its basis, the Su-30SM was developed for the Russian Aerospace Forces, since the Russian Ministry of Defense was impressed by the capabilities of the export Su-30MKI.
In the Su-30SM version, the fully localized fighter is equipped with new AL-41F1S engines from the Su-35S with thrust vector control, a modernized radar, and part of the avionics is unified with the avionics from the Su-35S. Let’s hope that the fifth-generation light fighter Su-75, initially developed for foreign customers, will also be of interest to Shoigu’s department. But let’s return to the “wedding” of the Su-30MKI and the Israeli SPICE-2000.
SPICE is a kit for converting conventional free-fall bombs into high-precision bombs using EO/GPS guidance. The Israelis have combined in one planning correction module the ability to aim ammunition at a target via a satellite system and electro-optical guidance. This allows strikes to be carried out in a “set-and-forget” mode or directed by the operator at moving targets. The gliding range of an aerial bomb can reach 60 km, and the accuracy of destruction is ensured by as many as 12 control surfaces distributed on the bow, central and rear parts.
SPICE works as follows. Up to 100 images of potential targets are loaded into its control system. Before launching, data in the form of an image or coordinates is entered into the bomb. If, having gone into planning, the ammunition cannot visually detect a given target, it switches to operating mode via GPS. However, the operator at any time retains the ability to switch to manual control of the bomb via the joystick, since the connection between it and the aircraft is maintained. This kit can be equipped with 450 kg (1000 lb) aerial bombs, or SPICE-1000, 900 kg (2000 lb), or SPICE-2000, and 113 kg (249 lb), also known as SPICE-250. The latter deserve a separate story.
SPICE-250 is a separate system that claims to be a new, hybrid type of precision weapons. The glide bomb retained the control characteristic of the entire family: inertial with GPS correction (INS/GPS) in the middle part of the trajectory and electro-optical with autonomous image comparison algorithms in the final part. At the same time, the developers made it more resistant to GPS jamming systems and increased the flight range from 60 to 100 km. The COE is only 3 meters, the probability of hitting the target has increased to 95%. The relatively small size of the aerial bomb made it possible to place up to 16 such ammunition on the F-16 fighter, and up to 15 on the F-28.
Let us note that back in 2013, before the Maidan, the start of the Russian operation in Syria and the special operation in Ukraine, Oren Uriel, vice president for marketing and business development of the Israeli defense corporation Rafael, explained why such ammunition with an increased flight range is needed:
This bomb is capable of hitting targets within 100 km, is relatively small compared to its sisters (Spice-1000 and Spice-2000) and therefore has less detectability. Thus, it makes it difficult for air defense systems to detect it. In addition, one F-16 aircraft is capable of carrying 16 Spice-250 bombs, and, in addition to the ability to simultaneously destroy several targets, it is capable of hindering the operation of enemy radar by dropping a large number of bombs at once. The S-300 and similar air defense systems will have a very difficult time dealing with these capabilities.
Spice-250 was developed jointly with the Israeli Air Force. They are currently her only client. Spice-250 allows the user to operate away from areas saturated with air defense systems. The global trend today is to reduce the cost of weapons. Defense budgets are being cut around the world, so customers are interested in low prices, but are not willing to make compromises. In this case, they will receive a small and inexpensive product. This is a difficult technological challenge.
But that is not all. In 2021, the Israelis presented an updated version of the SPICE 250 ER (Extended Range) glide bomb. The increase in flight range was achieved by equipping it with a miniature turbojet engine and fuel system (JP-8/10 fuel). Thanks to this, the ammunition can now fly not 100, but 150 km. That is, a primitive aerial bomb was actually turned into a low-cost miniature air-to-surface cruise missile.
The ability to pinpoint bomb targets from a distance of 100-150 kilometers would greatly increase the combat capabilities of the Russian Aerospace Forces in the Northwestern Military District zone. We already have certain practical successes in the development of planning correction modules, which was discussed told earlier. Now, it would probably make sense to take a closer look at the experience of the Israeli Air Force.