How U.S. JDAM Smart Bombs Compare With Russia's KAB Precision Munitions

U.S.-supplied "smart" bombs already employed by Ukraine are superior to examples of Russian precision-guided munitions, experts have told Newsweek.

Last week, General James Hecker, the U.S. Air Force's top commander in Europe and Africa, confirmed that Ukraine's forces were already using a limited number of JDAM-ER "smart bombs," supplied by the U.S. A Defense Department spokesperson told Newsweek via email that they had nothing to add to Hecker's comments.

Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) transform "dumb bombs" into precision-guided munitions, or "accurate, adverse weather 'smart' munitions," according to the U.S. Air Force. They were announced in a tranche of U.S. military aid heading for Ukraine in December 2022.

US Air Force JDAM System
A flle photo showing an F-16CJ from the 78th Fighter Squadron, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina flies over the Eglin Land Range as the pilot releases a GBU-31 2,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) during a test mission February 25, 2003. JDAMs and JDAM-ERs transform "dumb" munitions into precision-guided bombs. Michael Ammons/U.S. Air Force/Getty Images

JDAM-ER winged kits offer an extended range of around 45 miles, rather than the 15 miles offered by the JDAM kits. The smart bombs, released from aircraft, autonomously target predetermined coordinates as a "fire and forget" weapon.

Russia's arsenal also contains "fire and forget" smart bombs, although this term is not applied to laser-guided munitions, according to military technology expert David Hambling.

Much like JDAMs, Russia's KAB "smart" bombs can be laser-guided or satellite-guided. KAB "smart" munitions come in various sizes, including the KAB-500, KAB-1500 and KAB-250, but unlike the JDAMs, they are not kits that enhance "dumb" munitions, but are precision-guided in their own right.

The KAB-500L, with a high-explosive warhead, is the most common variation discussed in Russia's military actions in Ukraine, although there are many versions of KAB bombs in use.

The KAB-500L is thought to have been used to strike a theater in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in March 2022. It was also widely seen in Syria, William Alberque of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank told Newsweek.

However, one key advantage of the JDAM-ERs is that they are "highly resistant" to "widespread" jamming in Ukraine, Hambling said.

Global Positioning System (GPS) and its Russian version, GLONASS, are susceptible to jamming, but the JDAM-ER's inertial navigation system can keep the munitions on track, Hambling told Newsweek.

This GPS-aided system works through processing measurements such as speed and heading to calculate the position of the projectile. "It is expensive and rapidly loses accuracy but is ideal for something like a bomb which is only traveling for a few minutes at most," Hambling said.

The JDAMs are likely more accurate than the KABs, although it is hard to know for sure, Hambling commented.

Yet "KABs have been effective, but rare," Hambling argued. There has been "very little use of Russian precision-guided weapons in this conflict," he continued, with Russian forces largely making use of unguided rockets.

"This suggests that expensive, high-tech munitions are in very short supply on the Russian side," Hambling said. They may have low stocks of the pricey munitions, he added, or Western sanctions could be inhibiting the production of advanced weapons in Russia.

Overall, JDAMs would be the choice of weapons experts over Russia's KAB variants. The JDAM is "very much seen as superior" in terms of reliability, accuracy, and "how well they integrate with other systems," Hambling argued.

The JDAMs offer a "bigger bang" with "better accuracy," Alberque agreed, as well as larger stockpiles.

However, "in terms of being able to put a large amount of explosive on a precise point on the ground, KABs are still vastly superior to unguided weapons," Hambling said.

Update 3/14/2023 at 4.50am ET: This article was changed to clarify the terms "satellite-guided" and "fire and forget."