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Why are laser-guided bombs still assumed to be superior to GPS guided bombs?

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  • Why are laser-guided bombs still assumed to be superior to GPS guided bombs?

    Every time you read about air operations attacking a very specific target you see laser guided bombs used, with spotting infantry on the ground marking the targets. I just came across it wrt the 2007 Israeli raid on the Syrian nuclear reactor, but (from memory) it is all over the place.

    Why is that?

    I don't think it can be precision. GPS is less precise than laser but it should be well within a radius that a large bomb doesn't "care" about.

    Is it the problem of GPS losing signal, or partial signal loss leading to further loss of precision?

    Does it have nothing to do with hitting the target, it is just that the ground team members are the first ones to really identify the critical parts to be hit?

    I vaguely remember than drones were used to laser-designate.

    The whole thing strikes me as a bit archaic, not to mention dangerous.

  • #2
    The lasing can be provided by third parties (ground or air), removing some workload from the attacking crew and - potentially - being able to switch targets if required. It can also, in theory, hit a moving vehicle though they are not usually employed that way.

    GPS might be more accurate under certain circumstances, but they bring their own issues about the validity of the GPS coordinate on a fluid battlefield with imperfect knowledge. Note that stand-off attack weapons often use a mixture of guidance systems to ensure than can engage all forms of targets with the greatest accuracy.
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    • #3
      Also GPS can be disrupted by the enemy - I imagine the US for example can shut down most GPS systems simply by denying the use of their satelites.

      I suspect other jamming methods are available as well.
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      • #4
        I don't know why,but I have imagined Iranian team hijacking a GPS guided missile believing they are capturing an UAV.CABOOM!
        Last edited by nikolas93TS; 04 Sep 12, 10:45.
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Redwolf View Post
          Every time you read about air operations attacking a very specific target you see laser guided bombs used, with spotting infantry on the ground marking the targets. I just came across it wrt the 2007 Israeli raid on the Syrian nuclear reactor, but (from memory) it is all over the place.

          Why is that?

          I don't think it can be precision. GPS is less precise than laser but it should be well within a radius that a large bomb doesn't "care" about.

          Is it the problem of GPS losing signal, or partial signal loss leading to further loss of precision?

          Does it have nothing to do with hitting the target, it is just that the ground team members are the first ones to really identify the critical parts to be hit?

          I vaguely remember than drones were used to laser-designate.

          The whole thing strikes me as a bit archaic, not to mention dangerous.
          Part of the reason in the past was that ground personnel were tasked to establish a positive ID on the target before calling in the strike.

          Part of the problem might be that GPS, even the more advanced military version, is not always as precisely accurate as it is made out to be by the time it is translated into velocity, kinetic energy and G-forces.

          By that I mean that once a bomb is dropped, the aiming mechanism will do it's best to arrive at the proper GPS coordinates, but what if the bomb was dropped just a little bit late,or at the wrong angle, and the necessary correction falls just outside the bomb's ability to achieve? The bomb is already on it's way, so a near-miss will the best result if the complex factors involved cannot be resolved to achieve the perfect hit.

          And, of course, the human element comes into play. Someone actually has to determine the exact GPS coordinates of the target, often by going there on the ground, instead of standing off a good distance and simply tagging it with a laser, or using a laser designator that doesn't have to be on the ground at all, but can be airborne.

          Predators use Hellfires, which use an image guidance system. The missile takes a picture which is used as the target lock, and thereafter tracks the object of the lock visually.
          Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Who is watching the watchers?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
            By that I mean that once a bomb is dropped, the aiming mechanism will do it's best to arrive at the proper GPS coordinates, but what if the bomb was dropped just a little bit late,or at the wrong angle, and the necessary correction falls just outside the bomb's ability to achieve? The bomb is already on it's way, so a near-miss will the best result if the complex factors involved cannot be resolved to achieve the perfect hit.
            How is that different for a laser guided bomb?

            Predators use Hellfires, which use an image guidance system. The missile takes a picture which is used as the target lock, and thereafter tracks the object of the lock visually.
            Of course. But smaller drones using laser designators also seem to be in use.

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            • #7
              Sometimes the difference between ~10m GPS accuracy and <5m laser accuracy can be critical for troops in contact. Because we are fighting much more often in built up areas, it can be tactically important to put the round in a specific window. That means a laser or optical tracker such as MM described above becomes increasingly useful.

              Laser designation also avoids the user 'fat fingering' the coordinates which has happened at least a couple of times in Afghanistan that I'm aware of.

              The potential for jamming has already been mentioned.

              In principle the laser designation system does not require the firing unit to have real time contact with the unit operating the designator. As long as the encryption on all systems is current, the weapon should acquire and begin tracking the laser reflection as soon as it is in range and has cleared terrain obstacles. Potentially a laser guided attack should take very little time compared to coordinating and setting up a guided attack.
              Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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              • #8
                I would expand on GC's post by saying that LG munitions do not require much preparation. GPS munitions require more. So GPS Munitions are ideally suited to preparatory fires, where each plane can come in the area with a number of munitions each individually targetted already, and release them at the appropriate time. Laser munitions are better as a 'call for fire' asset as the plane only has to get close, get a lock on the laser, and release...never actually knowing the exact location of the target.

                A unit actively in combat isn't going to want to sit down under fire with a GPS and a map and work out firing solutions for the flyboys. Plus if they're off, they might be hitting themselves. Better to simply designate the actual target and let the pilots pick up the beam for the bomb to ride in.
                Tacitos, Satrap of Kyrene

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                • #9
                  For moving targets, GPS-guided munitions are essentially useless. Laser guided is the way to go for that target set.
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                  • #10
                    I'm thinking more along the lines of reactors and the like...

                    But yes now that you mention it, I think most of the reports that I have in my head are from Afghanistan or whereabouts and target infantry of some sorts. Obviously the laser is better for that.

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