Key point: Syria has been a critical testing ground for Russian military tech.
Russia claims to have developed an ingenious new smart bomb.
Or rather, instead of making the bomb smarter, it's the aircraft carrying the bomb that has all the brains, according to the Russian news site the Saker.
The Saker article attributes the "amazingly accurate" and "quasi-miraculous" Russian bombing in Syria to a weapon called the SVP-24. The SVP-24 is a system that turns unguided conventional bombs into precision-guided weapons, similar to the U.S. Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). But whereas the JDAM is a guidance kit attached to an iron bomb, Russia's SVP-24 attaches the guidance kit to the bomber itself.
"What this system does is that it constantly compares the position of the aircraft and the target (using the GLONASS satellite navigation system)," the Saker says.
"It measures the environmental parameters (pressure, humidity, windspeed, speed, angle of attack, etc.). It can also receive additional information from datalinks from AWACS aircraft, ground stations, and other aircraft. The SVP-24 then computes an 'envelope' (speed, altitude, course) inside which the dumb bombs are automatically released exactly at the precise moment when their unguided flight will bring them right over the target (with a 3-5 meter accuracy)."
Thus, "the pilot does not even have to worry about targeting anything," according to the Saker. "He just enters the target’s exact coordinates into his system, flies within a defined envelope and the bombs are automatically released for him. He can place his full attention on detecting any hostiles (aircraft, missiles, AA guns)."
And why is this better than the JDAM? It's cheaper, the Saker argues. Each JDAM kit costs around $25,000 per bomb, and when the bomb is dropped, the kit it expended. Because the SVP-24 is fitted to the aircraft rather than the bomb, it can be reused each time.
Don't these tropes sound familiar? Brilliant new weapon unveiled (a constant refrain since the Smart Bomb Revolution in the Vietnam War). It is, it seems, the story of simple Russian engineering versus over-complicated American technology.
Yet before we pronounce a smart bomb breakthrough, let's take a closer look.