Reaching Out

In response to numerous requests from Kyiv over several months to be provided with longer and longer-range weaponry, the United States is, according to Reuters, pondering a proposal from Boeing to supply Ukraine with Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDB).

This precision munition was developed through a partnership with Saab and Boeing and has been in the works since 2019. Video from YouTube and Saab

If you are a real weapons geek like me, you probably want to know a little bit more about this particular bomb and how it can further the Ukrainian cause—driving the Russians back over the border and into their own country.

The folks at Boeing and Saab (makers of fighter jets and former manufacturers of boxy cars that were good in the snow) are more than happy to tell us all about the bombs they are trying to get into the hands of the Ukrainian Armed forces. So listen up (as they say in the Army when you are about to be briefed on something); the GLSDB is a marriage of two systems, Boeing’s Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) 1 and the M26 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) rocket.

The GLSDB uses the M26 ground-based rocket motor from the MLRS and Boeing’s air-launched GBU-39B SDB. Saab says the weapons can be “ground-launched from a wide variety of launchers and configurations.” Their range is about 150 km or 93 miles. Their components are common to US military munitions inventories.

The SDB 1 is a 250-pound class weapon with an advanced anti-jam global positioning (GPS) aided inertial navigation system. It features a multipurpose blast and penetration warhead and a programmable electronic fuze. The warhead carries 36 lbs of AFX-757 high explosive and can penetrate 3 feet of steel-reinforced concrete buried under 3 feet of earth. These bombs can be dropped from aircraft and feature folding wings (as shown below) that allow the munition to glide up to 100km (62 miles). Since their inception in 2005, all 17,000 of these weapons have been made in the USA at Boeing’s St. Charles, MO facility.

GBU in flight
The GLSDB is in flight. As you can see, it looks a bit like a drone. Image from

According to Saab, the advantages of their joint project with Boeing are here.

The GLSDB has the following:

  • Increased range
  • Guided artillery
  • Accuracy within one meter
  • All angle, all aspect attack, even targets behind launch point
  • Multiple rockets act against many targets, with near-simultaneous impact
  • All-weather, 27/7 capability
  • Terrain avoidance
  • Cave breaching capability (would have come in handy in the old bin Laden cave raiding days)
  • Launchable from hidden or protected positions to avoid detection
  • Programmable impact and delay fuzing for deep penetration or proximity height-of-burst
  • SDB Focused Lethality Munition (FLM) variant for low collateral damage
  • Laser SDB variant for moving target capability
  • Effective against armored targets

All This at a Bargain Price

As it turns out, there is currently no shortage of M26 rocket motors, and GBU-39s are about $40,000 each, rendering the finished product relatively inexpensive. However, arms manufacturers are working at max capacity, and specific components take longer than others to get. Boeing is projecting a limited number of completed GLSDB to be available by early 2023. They hope to be able to ramp up production after that.

As usual, our friends at CRUX are always on top of these matters, providing you with some good visuals of the weapons system at work. Video from YouTube and CRUX.

Benefits to Ukraine

There are several reasons the Ukrainians would like to get their hands on GLSDB. Currently, the longest-range missiles we are sending can reach out to about 55 miles. GLSDB would almost double that. In addition, the missiles are highly maneuverable and can destroy challenging and soft-skinned targets. As mentioned earlier, they can even hit targets behind them. And the focused lethality munition variant warhead means less collateral damage. This makes it a more desirable option for close-in support of friendly troops on the ground.

One More Thing

Here is an interesting aside: During a November 9th press conference, President Biden stated the following regarding the range of missiles we are currently supplying to Ukraine:

“Well, the HIMARS—there’s two kinds of, in the average person’s parlance, rockets you can drop in those: one that goes over 600 miles and one that goes about 160 miles. We didn’t give them any ones that go to 600 miles because I’m not looking for them to start bombing Russian territory.”

Ummm…not so fast there, Joe. Or, rather, not so long. No missiles capable of being fired by HIMARS can travel 600 miles. However, Lockheed Martin, the developer of the HIMARS launchers, tells us that missiles currently capable of being fired from them have a “proven range up to 300 km (186 miles)” and “future munitions are in development that will offer extended range beyond 499 km (373 miles)”. 

Maybe the President misspoke and confused kilometers for miles, but it is still…not even close.