SAAW – targeting enemy airfields

January 9, 2017 Photo(s): By IAF
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Su-30MKI aircraft

On December 24, 2016 India successfully tested an indigenous Smart Anti-Airfield Weapon (SAAW) from an Indian Air Force aircraft. The captive and release trials were tracked by radar and telemetry ground stations at the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur in Odisha during the entire duration of the flight. The performance of all systems was satisfactory with all mission objectives achieved. The DRDO developed SAAW is a 120-kg class smart weapon used to destroy runways, bunkers, aircraft hangers and other reinforced structures. Its long standoff range of 100 km will allow the IAF to hit adversary airfields with high precision from a safe distance. The lightweight high-precision guided bomb is one of the world class weapons systems. In September 2013, the SAAW project was sanctioned by the government at a cost of Rs. 56.58 crores, Trials for wing functioning of the weapon were successfully conducted in late 2015 at the Rail Track Rocket Sled (RTRS) facility located at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL), Ramgarh in Haryana. The test was carried out by IAF’s Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE). The trial mode mounting of the SAAW on Jaguar DARIN-II aircraft is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). In May 2016, the DRDO had conducted the first test of this weapon system from the IAF Jaguar DARIN-II (SPECAT) aircraft in Bengaluru in Karnataka. The SAAW is a lightweight high precision guided bomb with high explosive content that will enable IAF plots to destroy enemy targets from standoff range of up to 100 kms without endangering themselves. The second test of the weapon was successfully conducted on 24 December 2016 by the DRDO from a Su-30MKI aircraft at Integrated Test Range (ITR), Odisha. It can be currently launched from SPECAT Jaguar and Su-30MKI aircraft. There are plans to integrate the weapon with Dassault Rafale when it is inducted into the IAF. The Jaguar is capable of carrying six such weapons.

The deep penetration capability of the SAAW has not been made public but penetration and pinpoint accuracy is something that the DRDO would do well to research more. This is vital considering the heightening dual threat of China-Pakistan. Under garb of hydel projects, China has reportedly dug some 33 tunnels in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, where strategic weapon systems have been or would be deployed. These structures obviously are bomb proof but susceptible to very deep penetration ordnance. Even as early as mid 1990s, North Korean technicians were assisting Pakistan in developing missile silos, including in close vicinity of airfields. We also need pinpoint standoff ordnance to destroy enemy bridges in requisite timeframe, particularly for blocking forward movement of enemy strategic reserves. Significantly, the US developed the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which is a precision guided 30,000 pound (14,000 kg) bunker buster bomb, which is substantially larger than the deepest penetrating bunker bombs of 2,300 kg GBU-28 and GBU-37 earlier available to the US Air Force (USAF). It was during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that analysis of sites attacked with bunker buster bombs revealed poor penetration and inadequate levels of destruction. This renewed the US interest for developing the larger bunker buster; hence the MOP project was initiated by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US to fulfill a long standing USAF requirement. With India having been designated “major defence partner” by the US and new horizons opening under the Indo-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTII), the DRDO and the IAF would do well to discuss with the USAF what were their analysis of the sites attacked with bunker buster bombs during the US invasion of Iraq that led to the MOP project. A concurrent study of the likely targets in future conflict that IAF would need to attack with bunker-buster bombs would lead to the conclusion what we need in addition to inducting the successfully tested SAAW. The DTII could be optimized to develop the next generation bunker-buster bombs and the delivery means. By November 2012, the USAF had already received 16 x MOPs. In recent years, the USAF has been looking for next-generation Penetrator Munition that is third the size of the MOP so that it can be carried by “affordable” aircraft, not only by B-52 bombers. According to US Global Strike Command, one of the objectives of the next-generation bomber is for it to carry a weapon with the effects of the MOP; either the same weapon or a smaller weapon that uses rocket power to reach sufficient speed to match the penetrating power of the larger weapon.