Defense Update News:

IAF Pursue Subterranean Targets with Earth Penetrators, Bunker Busters

New information emerging from the ongoing conflict along the Gaza strip indicate about new weapons being employed by the Israel Air Force. Among the systems reviewed below are several types of earth and bunker penetrating weapons, that could have been used in the recent attacks, designed to target underground facilities, including tunnels, weapons caches and rocket launching sites.


Foreign reports indicated yesterday that a new type of earth penetrating aerial delivered weapon was used by the Israel Air Force (IAF) to destroy Palestinian tunnels along the Gaza-Rafah border.

This should not come as a surprise, since Israel pioneered the earth penetrating weapon technology back in the 1960s, when IMI developed the Runway Penetrating Bomb (PPM), successfully used to neutralize the Egyptian and Syrian airfields on Operation Moked, the dramatic and highly successful opening air strike, on first day of the 1967 Six Day War. IMI's latest version of the PPM is the Runway Attack Munitions (RAM) designed to destroy airfield runways by exploding underneath the runway's concrete surface. This weapon has become a popular export product in recent years. While the RAM is not guided, its submunitions could be effectively used for earth penetrations.

For more precise attacks, such as those employed against known tunnels, a much larger weapon known as PB500A1 could be used. Developed by IMI, this bunker-buster is significantly smaller than the massive US GBU-28 two-ton massive penetrating ordnance acquired by Israel. The 1000 pounds class weapon (425 kg) PB500A1 weapon is comparable in performance to warheads weighing twice that weight, enabling aircraft to carry more weapons on every sortie, facilitating multiple and simultaneous attacks as demonstrated during the current operation. Both weapons can be guided by laser for precision attack. IMI is also producing a special version of the 500 pound (227 kg) Mk82 bomb, designed for 'reduced effect', causing less collateral damage, when employed on targets in dense urban area.

While Israel does not confirm the exact type of weapon used for this purpose, the experience gathered by employing JDAM weapons against tunnels in the past undoubtedly played an instrumental role in their preparation for Sunday's massive attack on the Palestinian tunnels, and is considered a major element in Israel's preparedness to face subterranean threats, leading into it's territory.

The Jerusalem Post indicated Tuesday that the Israel Air Force has used the new lightweight GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb acquired from the USA, in the recent attacks in Gaza. The Post mentioned the new weapons ordered last September having arrived last month, and already put to action with the IAF fighters. These weapons could have been deployed by the Boeing/IAF F-15Is, since sofar SDB is cleared for use only with this type of aircraft. However, sources in Boeing denied such shipment has been delivered.

GBU-39 uses geo-location for guidance, and, therefore, has the precision typical with J-weapons (various JDAM weapons). The main difference from the JDAM is the cruciform wing apparatus developed by MBDA, significantly extending the range of the weapon. The IAF is also interested in extending the range of standard JDAM weapons, for which JDAM-ER is one option. Similar EO guided weapons developed by Rafael in Israel have already implemented range extension utilizing gliding wings.

The following video documenting yesterday's attack (30 december 2008) shows direct hits along a tunnel where gas, fuel or ammunition were transferred. As these secondary explosions burst through the air shafts they mark the tunnel axis. The bombs can be seen just before they hit the targets.

Loading JDAM on an IAF F-16. Photo: IDF Spokesman