Laser Guided Bombs
As aerial warfare evolved from its humble beginnings in World War I, so too has
the weapons that the fighters, bombers, and attack aircraft carried. In World War I,
destroying a target the size of an aircraft hanger involved carpeting the area with over
9,000 bombs. When the Vietnam War was fought, it took 300. Today, a F-117
Nighthawk stealth fighter could drop a single Paveway II Laser Guided Bomb, destroy
the hanger, and disappear into the night before the enemy even comprehends what has
happened, much less scramble some sort of resistance and fire back.
Laser guided weapons greatly reduce the time that our pilots are open to attack;
they allow the crew of the aircraft to fire the weapon from a safe distance and not linger
around to check that the bomb has hit or, because of its superior accuracy, make re-runs
and attack again. First tested by the United States Air Force in the Korean War (1950-
1953), laser guided bombs were used successfully in the Vietnam conflict (1959- 1975)
and destroyed two heavily defended bridges, both of which had resisted bombings by
conventional weapons throughout the war. As the current leader in the field of laser
guided weapons, Raytheon produces the highly successful and popular Paveway series
laser guided bomb.
In a laser guided bomb, the ordinance (the bomb itself) consists of three
components: a computer- control group (CCG), guidance canards, and a wing assembly.
The canards are small wings attached to the front of the warhead to provide steering
commands, given by the CCG, and the wing assembly provides lift at the aft (back) end.
These three components steer and guide the bomb. Another unit called the target
designator, or targeting pod, guides the bomb’s seeker (located in the CCG) with a laser
Some current laser guided bombs and targeting pods:
A laser guided bomb works in the following fashion:
1. A light (laser) beam is sent from the targeting pod, on the aircraft, or target
designator, on the ground.
2. The beam is the reflected off of the target.
3. The seeker acquires the beam, transmitted in a special pulse coding system so that
the seeker won’t lock onto any other incoming beam of light.
4. The bomb’s guidance (CCG) activates; the canards and wings steer the bomb
towards the intended target.
For example, an aircraft is attacking a tank with a laser guided bomb (LGB), guided by a
targeting designator carried by U.S. Marines.
Direction of LGB F-117 Stealth fighter
Although laser guidance has its advantages, because it is using light as its
guidance, it needs a clear line of sight to work with the most precision. Light always
travels in a straight line, unless bent by refractors of some kind. Because the laser needs
to travel from the designator to the target to the seeker on the bomb, adverse weather
conditions can alter the path of the laser, misleading the bomb to the wrong target or the
laser signal does not reach the bomb at all. Such environmental related difficulties
Despite these difficulties however, smart bombs will still continue to lead the way
as the weapon of choice against urban targets, where collateral damage must remain
minimal, and targets deep in the heart of enemy territory, where our aircraft want to fly
in, drop the payload, and fly out before being attacked. The precision and effectiveness
of laser technology is unsurpassed. The applications are broad and the impact far-
reaching. Laser guided bombs have countless times reduced the risk of exposure time to
our pilots, past, present, and future.
1. Federation of American Scientists. “Laser Guided Bombs.” [Online]. Available:
http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/lgb.htm. [February 13, 2002].
2. Billings, Charlene. Lasers: The New Technology of Light. Facts On File Science
Sourcebooks. New York.: Charlene W. Billings, 1992.
3. Boyne, Walter J. “Smart Bomb.” [CD-ROM] Microsoft Encarta 2001. [February 13,
4. Federation of American Scientists. “Smart Weapons.” [Online]. Available:
http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/index.html. [February 13, 2002].
5. Raytheon. “Paveway Laser Guided Bomb (LGB).” [Online]. Available:
http://www.raytheon.com/es/esproducts/dsspvwy/dsspvwy.htm. [February 13, 2002].