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Russia upgrades bombs, war in Ukraine takes turn for the worse

Mar 12


The dynamics of the war in Ukraine are changing significantly as Russia seeks to upgrade its stockpile of heavy “dumb bombs” into gliding and guided bombs. With Russia already pressing its advantages in sheer numbers of soldiers and munitions, and with Western military support stalled, this major bomb upgrade forebodes darker days for Ukraine ahead.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explores the details of the new Russian bomb systems and then delivers a dire warning for Ukraine and the West. Zeihan says that the only way for Ukraine to counter this threat is with a much larger air force capable of intercepting Russian planes and conducting preemptive strikes over the Russian border, an unlikely prospect as the U.S. continues to stall on any further aid to Ukraine.

Below is an excerpt from Peter’s March 12 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

We’ve seen both sides of the conflict in Ukraine adopting and adapting new ways of fighting. While Ukraine has innovated with drones and satellite tech, Russia has modified its large FAB-1500 dumb bombs into glide bombs.

Russia has always fought (and won) wars through sheer numbers and volume, but the introduction of precision-guided systems is a new blend of innovative tech and the traditional Russian numbers strategy. Since Russia has so many FAB-1500 dumb bombs that can be upgraded, they’ll have a multi-decade supply of glide bombs.

This shift in Russian strategy should be setting off alarms for the rest of the world. With such a substantial transformation in Russian military power, global military strategies will need to be reevaluated and revised.

Everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado where we are having a 55-degree day in between snowstorms.


What we’re going to talk about today is some of the technological evolutions we’re seeing in the Ukraine. More specifically, on the Russian side. I mean, the Ukrainians have gotten a lot of street cred that they have earned for new and innovative tactics and applying new technologies, like drones and civilian satellite information to the targeting systems. But the Russians haven’t been just sitting there taking it, they’ve been innovating and applying it across their entire post Soviet arsenal, or maybe more accurate to say, Soviet arsenal. And the weapon system in play is something called the fab 1500, which is a 1500 kilo dead drop bomb, that they’re now putting flight kits on that allow it to become a glide bomb, think of it as a very low tech missile, that if you drop it from a sufficient height can glide up to something like 50 kilometers or more, based on circumstances in the battle, the deep cut that resolved back in February, the Russians used over 100 of these a day at some point. And the payloads ended up making a bomb crater that in many cases is more than 50 feet across. So just a huge amount of explosive developed with relative precision, the Russians are saying they have a an accuracy rate of five meters, let’s take them at their word. Or if you want to say they’re off by an order of magnitude, 50 meters. Still, the concussive explosion of that kind of bomb is just devastating to any sort of emplacement defensive installation, and certainly troops. And we’re applying this now to the Soviet arsenal. One of the things to keep in mind, well, actually, let me go back. So if this sounds familiar, putting like a glide kit on a dumb bomb, that’s because we’ve seen this before. Now, for those of you who are under age 45, think back to Desert Storm, where the United States was at war in Iraq the first time, and we had something called the J dam, the joint direct attack munition, where we took our Cold War arsenal of dumb bombs and put flight kits like these on them, that allowed for accurate attacks, very, very cheap, measured in the single or double digits of 1000s per bomb for the adjustment as opposed to say, millions per missile. And it converted something that we had just an extreme inventory that allowed us to basically coast on that technology for the next 2025 years. Very significant development that transformed American air power. The Russians are now on the early stages of doing that themselves. And being Russian Soviet, they have a lot more of these in inventory than we ever did. And while they’re done rate might be a lot higher than ours, you’re still talking about 10s of 1000s of bombs that they can apply this to. And they’re only in the very early days of it. So if all they do is upgrade their dumb bombs, they have probably at current burn rates 20 to 25 years of supplies of these sorts of things. And none of the countries that border Russia have anything like this, they may have had a few supplementary weapons that were left over from the Soviet period, but almost the entirety of the Air Force was concentrated into Russia proper. And that’s where the industrial plant is to do the modifications. So there have been any number of reasons to think that it’s the Russians who, at the end of the day will rely on numbers and sheer weight to win this war and prosecute the next one. And the transformation of what has been to this point a relatively useless weapon, which is just a dumb drop a bomb with not a lot of accuracy into something that’s more akin to what the United States developed back in the late 1980s. Now, that’s a very, very, very significant development. And the only way that the Ukrainians can really counter this is by getting a functional air force that can strike across the border, and hit Russian aircraft before they can drop the weapons in the first place. And even in the most aggressive estimates that I’ve seen for the transfer things like the F 16 to Ukraine, there just aren’t enough of them in order to make that sort of impact on a broad scale. So this is something that is going to reshape the battle space significantly, until and unless the Ukrainians can disrupt the ground logistical systems that are supporting the Russian forces. And even if the Kirche bridge group codes go down in Crimea goes from a springboard for Russian power to a massive sandbag, that doesn’t affect the Eastern Front. So we’re looking at here at probably the most significant transformation in Russian military power in the last 30 years, and it’s now being applied to a hot war zone. This is far more significant than what the Russians have been doing with artillery strikes and urban centers are the Shaheed drones from Iran, which are basically war crimes of choice, but something has a very real very deep, very lasting military implication that will affect the entire front line, especially in the East. And there is no good, clean, simple counter. Oh, one quick addendum, in order to put this into deeper context, the Soviets slash Russians have never ever won a war based on technology, it’s always been sheer weight of numbers. And this conflict is no different from the ones that came before in that regard.


The reason why the United States fights the way it does is we’ve always been on the wrong continent for most of our wars. And so no matter where we go, we’re always gonna be outnumbered. So it’s all about precision bringing force in volume, but applying it precisely. So that’s why we’re in precision guided munitions, head and mid and long range missiles, air power, guided artillery, all that good stuff, we’re never going to be able to fight on the numbers. So we have to have a multiplier. It’s two very different design philosophies and two very different military strategies that are defined by the cultures in question and where they tend to fight, we tend to fight at a considerable remove, the Russians have always fought very close to where they actually live.


What is in play here, with this new weapons system, the hood or the modified fab 1500 is applying a little bit of the American approach to precision to the Russian approach for mass. So for example, the the J dams, for the most part, the United States, it applies those to our old stock of 500 pound bombs, very effective. The Soviets because it was always about maths, don’t use 500 pound bombs use 500 kilo bombs, or in the case of the Fed 1500 1500 kilo bombs, very different scale. And if you can take a little bit of the American precision, even if it’s circa 1987, and apply it to the scale that the Russians can produce, then you have a very different warfighting capability, not just in Ukraine, but wherever the Russians go from now on. And that makes for a very different regional and even global rival that will force the US military into a ground up reassessment of everything that it does.

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