Smart bombs payout immediately by requiring a fraction of the ordnance

Thursday, September 1st, 2022

Austin Vernon discusses the economic logic of smart bombs:

US smart bombs like the GPS-guided JDAM and the laser-guided Paveway cost somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000 to manufacture. They are nearly 100% accurate in hitting a target, while unguided bombs are stuck with single-digit accuracy numbers. Unguided dumb bombs cost $2000-$3000 per bomb. Smart bombs payout immediately by requiring a fraction of the ordnance.

It is worse than that, though. A fighter jet like the US Navy’s F-18 costs over $10,000 an hour to operate, not including tankers. A B-52 bomber costs $70,000 an hour. Attacking targets using dumb bombs requires ten times the sorties at a significant cost premium and exposes planes and pilots to more risk.


Modern smart bombs fired by aircraft can provide support and screening for fast advancing mechanized columns instead of artillery. In the early Afghanistan conflict in 2001, the US deployed zero artillery because of its weight and logistics challenges. Combat aircraft were able to cover US ground forces against light Taliban forces.

In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, armor columns brought much less artillery than in 1991. Aircraft took over the strategic mission, leaving counter-battery fire and all-weather close fire support to artillery forces.


Smart weapons also have standoff capability. An unpowered JDAM bomb can glide over 25 km.


Drones are a continuation of the precision-guided munition paradigm. Smart bombs can make a plane 20x more effective. Drones are force multipliers across the board. The Army and Air Force have been drone leaders but need to continue to invest in drones across the spectrum. They need large, expensive drones that can operate far from bases and inexpensive micro-drones that can disrupt enemy formations or intercept enemy micro-drones. Modern warfare is an o-ring industry because enemies exploit gaps relentlessly.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “Combat aircraft were able to cover US ground forces against light Taliban forces.”

    The moral is — pick fights only against those who are not peers. Against real peers, what percentage of those aircraft carrying smart bombs would get close enough to the target to use them?

    And against real peers, the unknowable issue is at what point would the peer get tired shooting down our aircraft and simply let the nuclear missiles fly?

  2. Kunning Drueger says:

    Interesting analysis. I wonder if the author is in line for humble pie along with the entirety of the IC and the BrOSINT community regarding his March observations. Russia is not running out of munitions, and their accuracy is getting better as they integrate drone ISR on an active battlefield.

  3. Bomag says:

    “…let the nuclear missiles fly”

    Then, when does the peer get tired of shooting down nuclear missiles and starts sending in immigrants at demographic replacement levels?

    Or, introduces Woke ideology to its enemy and sits back while the victim starts to hate itself and begs to be replaced?

    Maybe goes biological with Covid and Monkeypox, rather mild germs that make countries elect senile leaders that hasten their fall?

    Or introduce endocrine disrupting chemicals that initially make life easier, but ultimately feminizes the men, masculine-izes the women, and sterilizes the enemy?

  4. Bob Sykes says:

    It’s only been a year. Have we forgotten that the Taliban won? They had no air craft, no bombs, no armor, no artillery, logistics by pack mule, maneuver on foot…

    The US’ military consistent record of failure, now being augmented in Ukraine, strongly suggests our military doctrine, including stealth and precision weapons, is nonsense.

    By the way, did you see the pictures of Fallujah after ISIS was expelled. The US used precision bombs extensively, but the end result was that Fallujah looked like Dresden after it was carpet-bombed.

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