On March 10, several news outlets reported that Ukrainian troops made their first-ever strikes using American Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guided “smart bombs” on Russian-captured territory.

Turning Dumb Bombs Into Smart Bombs

According to multiple sources, the precision bombs struck locations near the beleaguered frontlines of Bakhmut, which have seen some of the harshest combat since Russia’s “special military operation” began over a year ago.

General James Hecker, the U.S. Air Force’s top commander in Europe and Africa, was reported in Newsweek as saying that JDAM-ER precision-guided bombs arrived in Ukraine about three weeks ago. The “ER” part of the name refers to the Extended Range the current guidance kit offers over prior models.

News about a potential supply of the American smart bombs first surfaced in December, saying that Washington appears to be sending its precision-guided munitions kits to support the Ukrainian troops due to their steadfast quest to defend the sovereignty of their motherland.

While Pentagon hasn’t formally acknowledged the circulating news, two anonymous sources familiar with the matter confirmed to Bloomberg that Extended-Range JDAM (JDAM-ER) would be part of the additional $1.85 billion military aid the White House announced in mid-December.

Yan Gagin, military-political specialist and advisor to the interim DPR leader, previously told TASS news agency that Ukrainian soldiers had been spotted dropping the American-built smart bomb on the area of Kurdyumovka near the Bakhmut region of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) to test the practicality of using it from Soviet-made aircraft. Does that statement sound a little odd? Read on. Recall that Ukraine has no NATO-supplied aircraft from which to drop the JDAMs.

The aircraft in question was the MiG-29 fighter jet, which had previously been modified by Ukraine’s Air Force to serve as a launch platform for the American-supplied AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARMs).

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“These are air-launched bombs. Originally, they were made for NATO aircraft. Ukraine has no such aircraft,” said Gagin. “This could have been a combat test with a non-standard carrier. This can apply, in particular, to MiG-29 multirole fighters.”

Since the onset of the war, Western allies, particularly the United States, have provided significant military support to Ukraine by lending weapons equipped for precision-guided attacks. Moreover, supposing the JDAM-guided bomb has been sent to Kyiv—some experts speculate that Western specialists may be present on the ground to help modify and operate the complex bomb guidance packages.

This is possible, given that a wide network of serving soldiers and veterans of the Western military, as well as intelligence agencies based within Ukraine, have volunteered to provide critical assistance to Kyiv in optimizing the use of Western-supplied munitions—including extensive training on how to use the latest sent equipment and complicated precision-guided weapons.

More American-Supplied Arms in Ukraine

A JDAM is not a stand-alone munition but rather a guidance kit capable of converting “dumb bombs” (unguided, free-fall munitions) into all-weather precision-guided weapons (hence, the “smart” part). The kit adds an integrated inertial guidance system and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver capable of broadcasting a published range of up to 15 nautical miles (28 km). Simply put, the kit significantly enhances the overall accuracy of the bomb.

The Boeing Company developed it during the mid and late 1990s as part of a joint program between the American Air Force and Navy in the years following Operation Desert Storm. So that’s where the “J” in JDAM comes from.

The size, weight, and wingspan of smart bombs vary depending on the version, ranging from 92.6 inches to 152.7 in, 558 pounds to 2,036 lbs, and 14 inches to 25 inches, respectively. Moreover, it has a ceiling of at least 45,000 feet and can be launched from either very low or very high altitudes via dive, toss, or loft.

Currently, it is compatible with B-1B, B-2A, B-52H, AV-8B, F-15E, F/A-18C/D/E/F, F-16C/D, and F-22 aircraft. As well as possible future compatibility with the A-10, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and MQ-9 Reaper drone. You no doubt note that only one of those aircraft, the MQ-9, is currently being utilized in the Ukrainian theater of operations.

With additional modifications on Soviet-era warplanes, Western allies had commented on a potential platform for the JDAM via MiG-29 and the Su-27, which had already previously fired the AGM-88 HARM.

This lends credence to the DPR official’s claim regarding a Ukrainian MiG-29 firing the speculated American JDAM. Moreover, it would also be an excellent weapon for the Ukrainian troops to precisely engage significant Russian targets from longer ranges.

The ER kit of the smart bomb, co-developed by the Royal Australian Air Force in 2006, as mentioned earlier, features a boost of up to 72 km to the initial range—allowing the Ukrainian troops to attack the Russian frontlines and other significant bases around the country, Bloomberg reported last February.

Meanwhile, other media outlets have said that the defending forces have employed the JDAM bomb in Donbas for the first time. The footage of the explosion in question has been making rounds online via Ukrainian Telegram channels. The source, however, has not been confirmed.