Since the 1970s, the world has experienced a scientific revolution resulting in modern innovations and discoveries, as armed conflicts kept developing and evolving, in line with rapid scientific progress and discoveries in the fields of physics, chemistry, and other natural sciences as well as the arms race that was prevalent in the time of the Cold War, between the major industrialized countries.
Since the 1970s, the world has experienced a scientific revolution resulting in modern innovations and discoveries, as armed conflicts kept developing and evolving, in line with rapid scientific progress and discoveries in the fields of physics, chemistry, and other natural sciences as well as the arms race that was prevalent in the time of the Cold War, between the major industrialized countries. Nowadays, armed conflicts are characterized by the emergence of new types of weapons and military equipment, and their rapid deployment in large quantities in modern armies, resulting in a radical change in the organizational structure of the armed forces as well as the forms of armed conflict. Scientific discoveries in various sciences have led to many technological achievements in the military sector, the most prominent of which are high-precision weapons being developed and deployed at a rapid pace, resulting in a radical change in the organizational environment of the modern armed forces.
What are high-precision weapons?
A high-precision weapon is a technological system, consisting of command and reconnaissance platforms as well as guidance systems capable of destroying mobile or stationary ground, naval or aerial targets with a success rate of at least 0.6. The achievements in the advancements of communications, command and control technology, as well as precision in firing at targets, were in large part a result of advancements in electronics. While the increase in accuracy was achieved by the introduction of the helix design to gun barrels, the development of the reload mechanism and the increase in speed and range.
The probability of the projectile hitting the target (CEP) with the first shot and destroying it 100% of the time, has been the focus of weapons developers for a long time until it was finally achieved through advanced electronics technology. This led to the spread of what is known today as Precision Guided Munitions (PGM), which was used successfully and effectively in Vietnam, the Middle East, the Gulf War, and is currently being used in Ukraine, forever changing the nature of modern warfare.
Types of high-precision weapons
High-precision weapons can be divided into anti-aircraft, air, anti-ship, anti-radar, anti-armor, and multi-purpose weapons.
The purpose of anti-aircraft high-precision weapons is to counter air threats such as:
• Airplanes flying at any altitude in an atmosphere charged with electromagnetic and infrared countermeasures.
• Air strikes at secure distances.
• Hovercrafts that appear suddenly for a few seconds to carry out successive strikes before disappearing or hiding behind natural cover.
• The widespread use of unmanned aerial equipment that performs reconnaissance and attack operations.
Classification of high-precision weapons
So far, there is no unified classification of high-precision weapons, but the prevailing classification in the scientific and military references and literature divides these weapons as follows:
1 In terms of level and aspects of its use: They are classified into intercontinental weapons, strategic operational weapons, and tactical weapons.
2 In terms of launch platforms: They are classified into land, air, and naval-based guided weapons.
3 In terms of the targets: They are classified into weapons targeting radio-emitting targets, heat-emitting targets, and contrast targets.
4 In terms of weapons guidance methods (projectiles and missiles): Television, thermal, radar, proportional, or laser guidance.
5 In terms of command and control systems that go into effect after the launch of the projectile or missile:
• Remote control.
• Autonomous: divided into passive, active, and semi-active self-guidance.
• Mixed method: using fiberglass cables, wireless or wired.
6 In terms of the type of ammunition (the projectile): They are classified into: ballistic missiles – cruise missiles – air-guided missiles – artillery shells, high-precision mortars, anti-armor guided missiles, and guided air defense missiles.
High-precision weapons systems include a means of identifying targets using: radar, sonar, radio, infrared, or laser, in the visible electromagnetic spectrum, through which target data is processed using a microcomputer connected to the weapon, which directs fire at the target and kills it automatically without manual intervention.
The precise guidance of weapons depends on many factors, especially the characteristics of the target and the warhead.
Precision guidance has undergone many stages of development, starting with World War II, when the Americans designed radio-guided bombs weighing 2,000 pounds, which were dropped on Nazi Germany in 1944, and radar-guided naval torpedoes which sank Japanese destroyers in 1945.
There were also experiments involving television-guided bombs and thermal radiation, and by the end of World War II, research shifted its focus towards developing nuclear weapons, and the development of conventional weapons stopped for a while until the world superpowers realized the impossibility of using nuclear weapons as a substitute for traditional weapons.
Regional wars redirected research towards developing conventional weapons and increasing their effectiveness, and advances in electronic technology resulted in the development of land, sea, and air high-precision weapons.
The Vietnam War was a well-established field of experimentation for testing the effectiveness of conventional weapons equipped with various guidance systems, including aircraft bombs, Paveway laser-guided missiles, and Hopper electro-optical-guided aircraft bombs.
The bombing of the Tanhu crossing in North Vietnam on May 16, 1972, is considered a turning point in the history of recognition of the effectiveness of the high-precision weapons, which succeeded in destroying this crossing after the failure of 600 airstrikes using conventional weapons and the loss of at least 16 American bombers in the failed attempts.
Massive destructive power
High-precision weapons are classified as smart weapons, which have become a very important destructive force that most armies are racing to acquire despite their high costs.
In addition to their massive destructive capabilities, high performance, and accuracy, these weapons enable their users to direct them towards their target with great accuracy and speeds that exceed the speed of sound, leaving the targets incapable of evading or escaping the destruction.
Missiles’ power and accuracy have evolved with time, for example during World War II (1939-1945 AD), it took over a hundred planes dropping over a thousand bombs to destroy a vital target like a bridge, and the attackers had to hit the whole area and not just the target, while in the Vietnam War, bombing a similar target required about 50 planes and so on.
High-precision weapons programs have benefited from advancements in artificial intelligence technology, which made it possible to test these weapons in every different circumstance and scenario, using 3D digital images for every possible target including airplanes, armored vehicles, and ships of all types and sizes.
It is also possible to change the programming to match changes in circumstances and conditions in the field of operations, which has become inevitable, as modern trends require an increase in the development of weapons as well as the availability of personnel trained in the use of high-precision weapons to provide maintenance and upkeep.
On the other hand, many countries are basing their training programs and plans on providing high levels of continuous quantitative and qualitative training for the individual, to enable each individual to deal with the technical development that has become widespread in many systems of high-precision weapons, which he could eventually have to handle.
This highlights the importance and qualitative value of high-precision weapons, especially as the geographical operations theater widens while the number of forces and mechanisms gradually decreases.
Reliance on high-precision weapons
Reliance on advanced, high-precision smart weapons and munitions is the hallmark of modern armies, as modern high-precision munitions and warheads are characterized by their effectiveness against all targets, especially well-protected or fortified targets, in which case, the guidance computer alerts the detonator of the target type, and there are many types of high-precision munitions that have proven their ability to hit their target with high accuracy thanks to their intelligence in terms of guidance sensors.
The philosophy of making and using high-precision weapons was based on these weapons combining the power of the explosive charge of the projectile and the accuracy of the delivery system equipped to it, which is responsible for delivering it to the predetermined target, whether the weather conditions were stable or not.
Therefore, these high-precision munitions have been diversified and developed to ensure that they have the ability to deal with target data as well as the surrounding conditions, and they must also work as part of an integrated system, each with its own required elements, providing the requirements for the weapon to work and achieve maximum success.
High-precision weapons are the main concern and the basis of the armament systems of modern armies, and they are constantly under development and modernization, which includes all aspects of their operation from accuracy, range, and the control mechanism to their high ability to reach their target and destroy it.
High-precision smart munitions of all types (anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and anti-armor missiles) and ranges (long, short, or medium-range) have become indispensable tools for modern armies, as they have become a necessary replacement for conventional munitions in many cases, alleviating the logistical burdens for modern armies.
High precision weapons VS ground forces
The application of the “fire and forget” theory necessitated the development of weapons that work according to new physical principles, and these weapons must combine a powerful warhead with an accurate delivery system that allows for maximum effect on the precisely specified target, at any time, and in any weather, no matter how intense the enemy’s resistance, with the first shot and with a CEP above 0.5 – 0.8, and the “non-nuclear” tactical and operational weapon that meets these requirements is called a “high precision weapon.”
High-precision weapon systems used in western armies against ground objects and targets include:
• Missiles, bombs, air-guided incubators, and munitions (projectiles) fired by field artillery.
• Anti-tank missile systems launched from air and ground platforms.
• Armed reconnaissance systems
High-precision field artillery munitions and projectiles
NATO military experts believe that guided or self-guided munitions and projectiles fired by field artillery and rockets are the main means of increasing firing accuracy for field guns as well as the most effective means of combating tanks at long distances, by firing from concealed firing positions.
These ammunitions must meet the following requirements and conditions:
• The range of a projectile should not be less than 0.8 of the range of traditional projectiles.
• The accuracy should not be less than 9% of the probable circular error of traditional projectiles
• The weapon’s effectiveness must be maintained even in conditions of interference such as smoke curtains, dust, and decoy targets.
• The self-guidance system must be able to indicate the targets up to the distance required for the warhead to proceed on its own (2- 5 km).
These projectiles include the American 155mm hollow shell (Copperhead) AM-712, made in the USA with a range of 16-20 km and a 5.0-7.0 probability of success from the first shot, and a new model was developed with a longer range of 3-40 km and probability of success up to 8.0.
The shell weighs 3.62 kg with a length of 1380 mm and is equipped with a semi-active laser targeting system that enables it to effectively target various armored targets.
Another example of these projectiles is the 2.203 mm XM-836 Sadarm (sense and destroy armor), which is made in the USA and has a (pod) capable of housing 3 Sadarms, with a maximum firing range of 23 km.
The XM-836 weighs 92 -100 kg, has a length of 1140 mm, and is equipped with a passive radio-metric guidance system, which enables it to target tanks, armored vehicles, and armored personnel carriers with a 0.25 CEP.
Two other 155 mm self-guided projectiles were subsequently manufactured, the (XM-836) and the (XM-898), the first is a miniature model of the 2.203 mm projectile, while the second (XM-898) consists of a body, six precision-guided combat elements, a detonator and padding, the latter is guided by semi-active laser or radar guidance.
The GAMP program, which includes the manufacturing of a guided shell for the 7.106 mm mortars containing two skeet elements, is currently underway in the US.
The maximum range of this projectile is up to 6 km, and the probability of hitting the target with the first shot is 6.0, with a CEP of more than a meter.
This projectile weighs 15 kg, and it is equipped with a semi-active laser or a passive infrared guidance system.
It is also important to mention the multi-barrel rocket launchers, such as the American MLRS, which fires unguided M-77 missiles, with a length of 7.393 m, a weight of 7.305 kg, and a range of up to 32 km, and the warhead consists of small anti-personnel and other combat equipment bombs.
Use of high-precision weapons
High-precision weapons can be deployed as land, sea, air, or space weapons, depending on the circumstances, so that surface-to-air missiles can be fully integrated with the general air defense system.
«Dr. Moeen Ahmed Mahmoud (researcher in political and strategic affairs)