What Are “Smart” Bombs And Missiles?Edit

Smart bombs and missiles are basically conventional bombs and missiles outfitted with computer systems that allow them to be programmed or guided to hit an exact target. Smart bombs are outfitted with electronic sensor systems, control systems, flight fins, and batteries. When a smart bomb is dropped from a plane, the sensor system and control system work hand in hand, using the bomb’s forward velocity from being dropped from a moving airplane, to locate and strike a specified target. Interpreting messages from the sensor system, the control system adjusts the bomb’s flight fins to turn the bomb in the necessary direction. When the bomb reaches its target, it explodes either just before impact or upon impact. Smart missiles are basically the same as smart bombs except for the addition of some sort of a propulsion system. They can be launched from ships, submarines, airplanes, or from the ground.

Guidance SystemsEdit

The primary component that makes a bomb or a missile “smart” is the sensor system. There are many different sensor systems used in smart weaponry. In past years, smart bombs were typically TV/IR-guided or laser-guided. TV/IR-guided bombs have an attached video or infrared camera that relays information to a human operator who can guide the bomb to the correct target. Laser-guided bombs have an attached laser that seeks out the selected target. The major drawback that both of these sensor systems face is the fact that they are both visibility dependent, which renders them useless in heavy cloud or smoke cover. To solve this problem, the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) system was developed. This system is a “kit” that fits on the rear end of conventional bombs and allows them to be guided to their targets via global positioning system (GPS) satellites and an inertial guidance system. By receiving signals from satellites, a GPS guided bomb can locate itself in space and accurately hit entered GPS coordinates on the ground. Since this system is not affected by cloud cover or smoke, GPS based sensor systems have become the primary guidance system used today in smart bombs.[1]

Smart missile guidance systems primarily use GPS technology similar to that of smart bombs; however other guidance methods are employed as well. An Inertial Guidance System (IGS) allows a missile to locate itself based on its acceleration. Tercom guidance uses a combination of a radar system and an on-board 3-D terrain database to read the land that the missile is flying over and detect a target. When close to a target, primarily a moving target, missiles often are guided by a Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) system that uses a camera and an image correlator to find a target. Thermal imaging and illumination sensors are also often employed in smart missiles.[2]

Benefits of “Smart” Bomb and Missile UseEdit

The use of smart bombs and missiles in warfare today is beneficial militarily, economically, and socially. Militarily speaking, the use of smart bombs and missiles makes military strikes more accurate and more effective than ever before. Today’s smart missiles and bombs can accurately strike a target to within a few feet. With such accuracy, carpet bombing, or dropping large quantities of bombs in the proximity of a target to destroy it, is becoming a thing of the past.[3]5 Today’s smart weaponry allows military forces to accurately destroy specific targets with one weapon that in the past would have required hundreds of conventional explosives to do the job. Economically, the use of smart bombs and missiles may appear to be more expensive on the surface, but can actually be cheaper than conventional methods of destruction. Though each smart bomb or missile is much more expensive than its conventional counterpart, the accuracy that smart weapons possess allows military forces to destroy only designated military targets, not civilian infrastructure such as roads, bridges, dams, etc. If the attacking military force intends on rebuilding the infrastructure in a country that it is bombing, avoiding the destruction of such types of infrastructure can save millions or billions of dollars in the long run. Economically, this makes smart bombs more appealing. Also, the sheer cost of the hundreds of conventional bombs or missiles required to do the job of one smart explosive is often enough to validate dollar cost for smart weaponry. As stated by a prominent military think-tank representative about smart weaponry, “In terms of rubble for rubble or destruction for the dollar, it’s never been so efficient.”[4] Socially, the use of smart bombs and missiles is beneficial to civilian populations. As previously stated, smart bombs and missiles can effectively destroy a single target without causing much collateral damage. Compared to the bombing and missile campaigns of years past, which destroyed entire cities, the destruction of one building or one city block with a smart weapon is a lot less damaging to individual homes and lives. Instead of wiping out an entire neighborhood to clear the enemy, smart weapons allow military forces to strike and destroy a single enemy building, sparing lives and the infrastructure in the rest of the neighborhood.[5]

Downfalls of “Smart” Bomb and Missile UseEdit

Despite the obvious destruction and loss of life caused by any type of explosive device, there are a few other downfalls that come along with the use of smart bombs and missiles. The primary downfall of smart technology arises from the fact that such weaponry is reliant on electronics and computer networks. If the electronics in a bomb or missile fail, the weapon is basically rendered useless. Also, if the computer network that controls smart weaponry is destroyed, an entire stock of smart weapons may be rendered useless until the network can be restored. Compared to conventional bombs and missiles, which are largely self-reliant, this can be a major downfall of smart weaponry. The other primary downfall of smart bombs and missiles is the expensive cost of producing and using certain smart weapons. Being that smart missiles and bombs contain some of the most advanced electronics developed, some of these weapons can cost in excess of $1,000,000 dollars to use. This cost is much higher than that incurred from using a conventional counterpart.

Impacts on the “Human” Aspects of WarEdit

Smart bombs and missiles have brought a level of accuracy to military strikes that could only have been dreamt of in past years. Many innocent lives and valuable infrastructure have certainly been spared as a result of the use of smart technology. However, has the use of smart bombs and missiles in warfare eliminated the “human” aspects of warfare? In other words, do soldiers still fully realize that pushing a button to launch a smart missile from miles away will result in the death and destruction of human beings and the world in which they live? Certainly this question is debatable, and the facts must be presented. Smart bomb and missile technology has allowed the destruction of targets to occur from distances that are almost unthinkable. Smart missiles commonly used today, such as cruise missiles, can accurately strike targets from 1,000 miles away. It is not unimaginable to believe that this remote destruction capability certainly decreases the “human” aspect of warfare, as compared to hand to hand combat. For some soldiers, it may be easier to deal with the idea of eliminating the enemy from miles away as compared to pulling a trigger from a few feet. For others, distance may not make much of a difference because both methods of warfare result in the death of the enemy. As demonstrated here, the idea that the use of smart bombs and missiles in warfare has decreased the “human” aspects of war is largely a personal opinion, decided by the individual soldier. Has the use of smart weaponry helped to make war more humane?[6]

Too Reliant On Smart Weaponry?Edit

Are technologically advanced militaries too reliant on smart bombs and missiles in modern warfare? This question is often a main point of argument between differing schools of military thought, and is a matter of personal opinion. One side argues that smart weaponry has allowed military forces to fight wars from great distances, sparing the lives of many of their soldiers. The accuracy of smart weapons has given forces the ability to destroy targets while minimizing collateral damage. The other side argues that smart bombs and missiles are too susceptible to failure due to the large amount of electronics and computer systems involved. With the development of bombs capable of emitting electrical pulses to shut down entire electrical and computer networks, the total reliance on smart weapons by any military would be stupid. The resolution to these differing opinions falls somewhere in the middle. Smart bombs and missiles are certainly one of the most important advancements made in military technology, and they have certainly proved their usefulness time and time again. However, total reliance on such technology is dangerous. Militaries must continue to have the ability to fight effectively in close combat situations if such smart technology is rendered useless or impractical for the situation. As far as being too reliant on smart weaponry, the answer for this question is up for debate. When is a military considered to be reliant on smart technology? Does the military provide conventional weapons and combat training in case of the failure of technology? Does the military have the ability to continue fighting if smart weapons systems are rendered useless? These are just a few of the questions that must be addressed before a definite answer can be applied to this question.

Discussion PointsEdit

  • Has the use of smart bombs and missiles in warfare eliminated the “human” aspects of warfare?
  • Has the use of smart weaponry helped to make war more humane?
  • Are technologically advanced militaries too reliant on smart bombs and missiles in modern warfare?
  • When is a military considered to be reliant on smart technology?
  • Does the military provide conventional weapons and combat training in case of the failure of technology?
  • Does the military have the ability to continue fighting if smart weapons systems are rendered useless?


  1. (Accessed: 30 October 2006)
  2. (Accessed: 30 October 2006)
  3. (Accessed 30 October 2006)
  4. (Accessed 30 October 2006)
  5. (Accessed 30 October 2006)
  6. (Accessed 30 October 2006)

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