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commercial jet aviation
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Curtiss LeMay and SACs
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US bombers - the future
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current air capability of China
helicopters at war
'small' wars
guided bombs
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guided bombs

It's now known that Germany deployed a number of more advanced guided strike weapons that saw combat before either the V-1 or V-2. They were the radio-controlled Henschel's Hs 293A and Ruhrstahl's SD1400X, known as "Fritz X," both air-launched, primarily against ships at sea.

The Ruhrstahl SD 1400 'Fritz X' Air-to-Ship, Wireless Guided, Gliding Bomb

Of the fifteen battleships lost to airpower, one of these—the 41,650-ton Italian flagship, Roma—was sunk by a Fritz X. The British battleship Warspite was put out of commission for 6 months by this weapon. Fritz Xs also hit the cruiser USS Philadelphia, heavily damaged the cruiser USS Savannah, and sank the Royal Navy light cruiser Spartan.

A Henschel Hs 293 Air-to-Ship Wireless Guided Bomb with belly-mounted liquid fuel rocket engine

The Henschel Hs 293 was responsible for the world's first successful guided missile attack, sinking the British sloop Egret on August 27, 1943. The weapon initially possessed an 18-channel radio control system and was flown in the same way as a radio-controlled airplane. Wire guidance was subsequently adopted when it was discovered the bomb's radio receiver was vulnerable to electronic countermeasures.

The beginning ideas that were to evolve into the Henschel Hs 293 appeared in as early as 1939. In 1940, an experimental model having the shape of a glider was built. The goal was to develop a remote-controlled air-to-surface missile against shipping. Development proceeded even though no suitable rocket motors were available. The experimental model used a standard SC 500 bomb with extra wings and tail unit but no rudder. Finally a propulsion system was developed, and the liquid rocket was fitted under the main missile body. An 18-channel radio system was used for control.

The missile was designed to be carried under a parent bomber. Warm exhaust air from the aircraft engines was channelled to the missile to prevent it from freezing up at high altitudes. Once dropped the Hs 293 would fall for some 90m (295ft) before the rocket achieved maximum thrust. The parent bomber would continue to fly a pre-designated course parallel with the target. The bombardier could visually track the missile with the aid of red guidance flare in the tail, and control the projectile using a small control box with a joystick. The actual flight path resembled a series of arcs as corrections were received and followed.

The main weakness of the Hs 293A was that the parent bomber had to fly a steady, level path. Evasive moves to avoid anti-aircraft fire was impossible, even though the Hs 293 outranged most ship-borne anti-aircraft guns. An improved H2 293D with a television camera installed in the head of the missile as aiming system was planned but the war concluded before it could be realized. Also, the problem of icing was never resolved and thus further propulsion units were designed. The war ended before these plans left the experimental stage.

Henschel Hs 293 Air-to-Ship, Wireless Guided, Gliding Bomb Model C, D or H? carried by a Dornier 217

Crew members learn to control the Henschel Hs 293 guided bomb in a simulator

During World War II in the European Theatre the U.S. Air Force experimented with three basic forms radio-control guided weapons. In each case, the weapon would be directed to its target by a crew member on a control plane. The first weapon was essentially a standard bomb fitted with steering controls. The next evolution involved the fitting of a bomb to a glider airframe, one version, the GB-4 having a TV camera to assist the controller with targeting. The third class of guided weapon was the remote controlled B-17.

The TDR-1 Assault Drone

Remote-control or "stand-off" weapons were also used in the Pacific. The TDR-1 Assault Drone carried a 2,000 lb. bomb load or torpedo, and also included a TV camera for close-in guidance. The control plane carried a crew of four which included two pilots who's job it was to control the flight of the drone.

TBM-1 and TBF-1 Control Plane

On October 27, 1944, a TDR-1 launched and staged a combat attack against such an enemy target, the success of this system marking a new era in modern warfare. During the next month, 46 similar attacks were launched against targets in the Shortland Islands, Bougainville, and Rabaul, with 21 scoring direct hits. The men behind this remarkable story formed the STAG-1/SATFOR team, who's vision, determination, and dedication in performing their secret duties during World War II laid the groundwork for the modern cruise missile.

Getting Edna III Ready

Another successful guided weapon, a glide bomb, used in the Pacific Theatre was the autonomous ASM-2 BAT. It did not use radio control, rather it incorporated a sophisticated gyrostabilizer system to keep it on track as it glided towards its target and an early S-band radar system to home in on final approach.

The Autonomous ASM-2 BAT

Modern glide bombs may be guided by laser, infrared or GPS and have been used extensively in recent conflicts. The problem still remains that accurate intelligence is needed to determine legitimate targets.

When 'Shock and Awe' launched the first stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom the phrase became synonymous with a massive military strike—terrifying and overwhelming. The onslaught of surgically precise attacks that began on March 21, 2003, was expected to vaporize the enemy's military and political will and bring them to their knees. It was a strategy designed to end the war in hours or days. That was the theory.

The mission was to decapitate the government, destroy critical buildings and disrupt military communication with minimal civilian casualties—a tough order in Baghdad, a city of five and a half million.

The tools for the attack represented a top of the line, high-tech arsenal: submarine and ship-launched tomahawk cruise missiles, B-2 stealth bombers and F-117 stealth fighters, and precision-guided bombs and bunker-busters.

As a military tactic, shock and awe has been tried before during the last century—though it has rarely succeeded. In World War I the Germans used zeppelins to cross the English Channel and drop bombs on Britain, convinced the English would be stunned into submission. In World War II Hitler's air force inflicted a 57-day bombing campaign—the Blitz-on Londoners who once again refused to surrender. The Japanese also survived and resisted prolonged air attacks—until the atomic bombs were dropped. Hiroshima and Nagasaki created both shock and awe.

In the Iraq war, 'Shock and Awe' hoped to generate a similar psychological blow—without the casualties or the use of nuclear weapons—via precision-guided bombs.

After Vietnam the sophistication of guided bombs grew steadily until the public witnessed the grand entrance of the "smart bomb" during the first Gulf War.

In the early 1990s the American public watched spellbound as their network and cable news stations bombarded them with a bird's-eye view of precision guided bombs dropping down chimneys and slamming through the doors of various Iraq targets. These bombs gave the impression of clean, precise warfare. Some of these guided bombs allowed pilots to control them with a joystick and release the bombs a few miles from their targets.

But of all the bombs and weapons launched in Iraq in the first Gulf War, only about seven percent were "smart." And even these bombs had shortcomings. Laser-guided precision weapons were accurate, but bad weather or clouds of smoke from burning oil fields often made it impossible to find targets. Worse, pilots needed to fly relatively low and within range of enemy fire.

Just a decade later, 'Shock and Awe' used another advance in precision bombing—the Global Positioning System, or GPS. GPS guided bombs, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM, can be dropped from more than twice the altitude of earlier guided bombs and from farther away, helping pilots avoid antiaircraft fire.

On the evening of March 21, 2003, as the deadline passed for Saddam Hussein and his two sons to leave the country and avert war with the United States, the weapons of this hi-tech arsenal were launched.

At 10:15 pm 'Shock and Awe' exploded onto television screens across the world.

A bizarre testament to the precision of the weapons used during the first night of 'Shock and Awe' was that the streetlights still functioned. Electricity flowed to the city, including the Palestine Hotel where journalists frantically filed their reports. During the opening days of the war, even Iraqi government television was untouched and still broadcasting.

Civilian casualties did occur, but the strikes, for the most part, were surgical. Some buildings were completely demolished, while neighbouring structures were untouched. Some buildings remained standing while their innards were gutted. In others still, only individual floors were erased.

Even after several days of bombing the Iraqis showed remarkable resilience. Many continued with their daily lives, working and shopping, as bombs continued to fall around them. According to some analysts the military's attack was perhaps too precise. It did not trigger shock and awe in the Iraqis and, in the end, the city was only captured after close combat on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Kamikaze piloted bombs

The history of kamikaze goes back to the 13th century, when legend has it that Kublai Khan's invading fleet was turned away from Japan by a typhoon sent from the gods (kamikaze translates as "divine wind"). Long thought to be an apocryphal story, recent archaeological excavations have proven the tale true (the fleet part, not the gods part), with the discovery of underwater remains from Khan's fleet.

Suicide has always been a much larger component of Japanese culture than in Western civilization, which never really embraced the idea of "death with honour." Samurai code allowed for the practice of "seppuku," which was a ritual self-disembowelment, popularly known in the West as harakiri. Seppuku was generally used to absolve one's self of some disgrace or defeat. The suicide mindset continues in Japan today, where failed businessmen opt for the "honourable" way out and deranged teenagers take part in Internet suicide pacts for no special reason. Japan has the highest suicide rate among industrialized nations, with more deaths by suicide than by traffic accident.

So when Japanese fighter pilots during WWII got into dogfights that were going poorly, they naturally considered the "honourable" option of crashing their planes into enemy air fighters. Crashing an airplane into another airplane is actually trickier than you might think, and generally the only casualty is the other plane, so air-to-air kamikaze wasn't really a cost-effective battle strategy.

However, air-to-water kamikaze was another matter. By late 1944, the war was not going as well as the Japanese had hoped. American naval forces were slowly making headway across the Pacific, and the shores of California were looking farther and farther away. After some discussion among the brass, the first formal suicide attack was organized as a volunteer effort (previous suicide attacks had been spur-of-the-moment decisions).

The decision to proceed was motivated in part by an acknowledgement of the Americans' superior resources and partly for propaganda reasons. The Japanese assumed, quite reasonably, that U.S. forces would be unnerved by a military opponent which had zero regard for its own safety in combat.

In October, the first attack took place against the U.S. carrier Saint Lo off the coast of the Philippines. Half of the 26 planes were designated for suicide; the other half would capitalize on the ensuing chaos. The attack was a success and the carrier went down.

There was no overwhelming trend among the volunteers, except that, like modern suicide bombers, they tended to be young. Although the Japanese cultural obsession with suicide contributed to the pool of willing recruits, the effort was also enhanced by the divine status of the Japanese emperor.

The dominant Shinto religion holds that the Japanese emperor, like the Egyptian pharaohs and the Roman Caesars, was a descendant of the gods and a god in his own right. Although not a doctrinal belief, there was also a popular notion that kamikaze pilots would earn a free trip to heaven, just as al Qaeda suicide bombers believe today.

Japanese pilots were also trained in special schools, which may have employed brainwashing techniques to soften up potential kamikaze pilots for their eventual missions.

By 1945, the tide had decidedly turned in the Pacific, and the Japanese were in retreat. In desperation, the number of suicide attacks were increased, especially in light of their successful psychological effect on American sailors. Nearly 60 ships were sunk by kamikaze attacks in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Causalities included the USS Bunker Hill and the USS Essex (pictured in this article).

The kamikaze pilots carried manuals in their cockpits, which were translated and published in English in 2002 in the book "Kamikaze: Japan's Suicide Gods." The books included passages extolling the spiritual worth of the mission as well as helpful tips in doing the maximum amount of damage before one's fiery demise. Some representative passages include:

"Transcend life and death. When you eliminate all thoughts about life and death, you will be able to totally disregard your earthly life. This will also enable you to concentrate your attention on eradicating the enemy with unwavering determination, meanwhile reinforcing your excellence in flight skills......"

"Just as you cannot fight well on an empty stomach, you cannot deftly manipulate the control stick if you are suffering from diarrhoea, and cannot exert calm judgment if you are tormented by fever....."

"(Just before the crash,) your speed is at maximum. The plane tends to lift. But you can prevent this by pushing the elevator control forward sufficiently to allow for the increase in speed. Do your best. Push forward with all your might. You have lived for 20 years or more. You must exert your full might for the last time in your life. Exert supernatural strength."

Although without ceremony and absolute pre-meditation, many Allied missions both in the First and Second World Wars were effectively also in effect kamikaze.

21st Century Kamikaze

In just the same way as the Japanese resorted to suicide missions when they no longer were able to field competitive equipment against their enemy, so there are those whose religion or culture will allow them to make suicide attacks. Such attacks are most likely to happen when the cause for action does not have a standing army or air force, such as Palestine. The use of hijacked airliners to crash into designated targets such as happened on the 11th September will continue to pose a threat.