The C.L.T. has gone from concept to killer relatively quickly

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Precision glide bombs are not a new technology, so the success of precision weapons in the first Gulf War should have led to a new generation much sooner than just a decade ago:

The C.L.T. has gone from concept to killer relatively quickly by defense industry standards. Developed in 2009 as a joint project between Special Operations Command and Systima Technologies, its first use in combat was in November 2010, according to Lt. Phillip Chitty, a spokesman for Special Operations Command. Chitty declined to provide additional details of that airstrike, saying that “the location and scenario are classified.” Systima Technologies did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

The types of weapons the Pentagon has tested with the launch tube offer some insight into how Special Operations forces plan to fight in the future. In interviews with The Times, military officials said they placed a premium on long-range silent weapons with smaller explosive warheads over traditional airdropped bombs. By removing solid rocket motors and adding aerofoil wings to produce lift, these “glide bombs” use gravity to reach their targets without making any noise. Contracting documents reviewed by The Times indicate that Special Operations Command required one such munition to weigh approximately 50 pounds, take no more than one minute to reach targets four nautical miles away, hit moving targets traveling up to 70 miles per hour and either burst in the air above the target or from contact with the target. According to those documents, only one weapon currently meets those requirements: the GBU-69 Small Glide Munition, made by Dynetics and dropped solely from C.L.T.s. This 60-pound glide bomb, which can be GPS-guided for stationary targets and laser-guided for moving targets, is a marked departure from weapons like the Hellfire missile.

Nearly two decades of nonstop combat has revealed the limitations of weapons like the Hellfire, which was originally designed to destroy tanks. Even though Hellfire’s warhead has been redesigned for use against combatants, when fired the missile still produces a sound that pilots say can tip off people on the ground, prompting them to flee. By contrast, the Small Glide Munition reportedly makes far less noise than a Hellfire missile. Dynetics says its range exceeds 20 nautical miles, which could allow for a gunship to drop the bomb far enough away that people on the ground would not even see or hear the plane. In June 2018, Dynetics received a $470 million “indefinite quantity” contract to supply Special Operations Command with GBU-69s. A spokeswoman said that Special Operations Command has ordered more than 2,000 so far.

Special Operations Command has also been firing a small guided missile called Griffin from its dispensers. It is similar to the Hellfire missile in design and function, but is only two-thirds as long, weighs two-thirds less and has a similarly sized warhead.

In its development of new munitions like the GBU-69, the military has also come up with new ways to launch them. As the war in Iraq ground on, the Marine Corps decided in 2008 to arm its KC-130J Hercules refueling aircraft and turn them into close air support gunships. The resulting program, the Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit, added Hellfire missiles under the wings and two rows of five C.L.T.s strapped to the planes’ cargo ramp. By 2012, the Navy refitted the left-side passenger door toward the rear of these cargo planes with pressure-sealed fittings that allowed crewmen to load two launch tubes inside the plane side by side and drop them through the bottom of the door. The Navy called this the “Derringer Door” after the double-barreled pocket pistol designed for easy concealability. In a further evolution, Air Force AC-130 gunships now have a modified tail ramp with similar pressure-sealed fittings that allow up to 10 tube-launched weapons to be dropped before reloading.

I have to think you could modify mortar bombs in a similar way. Perhaps the mortar would have to be spigot mortar to better accommodate the wings. The Russians are already fielding suppressed mortars, by the way.


  1. McChuck says:

    Why suppressed mortars? It’s not like the Russians care about the hearing of their men. You can’t hear a mortar firing, unless you’re close enough to be take their crew under direct fire. Cutting down the flash would be handy at night, though. I like the size and weight. Seems handy as a company weapon.

    Glide bombs are indeed nothing new. But they don’t cost enough to really make them attractive to the powers-what-be at DOD. See also the British Brimstone missile system, their aptly named replacement for the Hellfire.

  2. Kirk says:

    The “silenced mortars” are less of a joke than they first seem. These Russian ones are basically copies of the old PRB captured-piston systems that became the Fly-K mortar and it’s remotely-fired multiple launcher. The Fly-K stands the round on a post; the Russian one is the same principle, but with a more traditional mortar tube along for the ride, making it a bit more weighty and perhaps safer for crew operation.

    The whole idea of a “silent mortar” is tactically significant, particularly for SF operations where signature and flash might give away positions of fire support during a deep operations Spetsnatz attack on key targets. Like as not, the signature would go completely unnoticed by the target, who would likely only start paying attention once the rounds start hitting.

    I don’t know why the Fly-K didn’t get more use and uptake–Particularly from my use-case as an Engineer who didn’t get the privileges associated with other, higher life-forms like the Infantry. We never, ever had organic indirect fire capability much more than an M203, nor were we allowed access to fire support unless we went through the Infantry or were tasked to fight as Infantry. Having a nifty little system like the Fly-K, which is basically an idiot-proof “mortar team in-a-box” would have been a nice capability to have had, working out on our own doing obstacle emplacement or bridging. Unfortunately, our bosses didn’t see it that way, and the Infantry/Artillery bubbas were like “Well… If you really need fire support, you can maybe… I dunno… Call us? We might get around to helping you guys out, if we’re not busy…”.

    The more I research and read, as well as reflect, the less I like the stovepipe approach to anything. Branch is all well and good, but when it prevents you from defending yourself because your officers wear the wrong kind of insignia, and decisions are made based on branch, not tactical need or the necessity of situation…? Yeah; screw that BS. I’m out in front of the friggin’ Infantry, I want the same gear and the same fire support, and if you don’t want to provide it to me and my guys because “cost” and “not Infantry”, y’all can kiss my shiny white ass, and go build your own damn obstacles and bridges yourselves.

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