Israeli Air Force Photos Show Fighter Aircraft Carrying Unguided Bombs

Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike that has been going on for nearly a week in Gaza City, Gaza, on October 11, 2023.
Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images

  • Israel has been pummeling Gaza, with precision guided munitions like JDAMs playing a key role.
  • But the Israeli Air Force recently published photos of fighter jets armed with what experts said look like unguided bombs.
  • Unguided bombs can cause massive damage and casualties when used in a densely populated area.

Israeli fighter aircraft have been bombing the Gaza Strip, often with precision-guided weapons like Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), but photos and videos posted by the Israeli Air Force suggest it’s also using less accurate, unguided munitions, experts told Insider.

Unguided bombs have their uses, but in a densely packed area like Gaza, there is potential for damage outside a target area and civilian casualties. 

Last week, the Israeli Air Force posted photos on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, of a bomb apparently being loaded onto an aircraft and of a fighter jet already armed. In both of the photos, the munitions appear to be unguided.

Israeli Air Force personnel “arming and continuing the series of attacks,” per an X post on October 12, 2023.
Israeli Air Force
Israeli Air Force aircraft outfitted with bombs. The photo appeared as part of an October 12, 2023 post on X.
Israeli Air Force

The text accompanying the photos in the posts says “arming and continuing the series of attacks” and “not stopping for a moment,” respectively, indicating the aircraft are involved in the ongoing bombing campaign in Gaza, a destructive response to the deadly Hamas terror attacks that caught Israel by surprise on October 7.

An Israeli Air Force video posted on Monday also showed fighter jets armed with unguided bombs ahead of footage of airstrikes.

Michael Bohnert, an engineer and analyst at the Rand Corporation, noted that in the images, there is no visible GPS-guided JDAM kit or laser-guided Paveway kit. “The bomb in this picture is unguided and likely highly inaccurate,” he said. 

One open source information account said the photos showed M117 unguided bombs on F-16C fighter jets, which the account said suggests “the Israeli Air Force may be dipping into stocks of older, less accurate unguided munitions.” 

Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow for airpower and military technology at the Royal United Services Institute think tank and a professor at the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy, also identified the bomb as a 750-lb M117 dumb bomb. 

“The M117 dates from the Korean War era,” Bronk told Insider, and “have a pretty distinctive design that’s very similar to the sort of general purpose iron bombs used by the US Army Air Force in World War II.” 

The bombs pictured boast a different design from those used in the Vietnam War era, when “most iron bombs went to much slicker designs because of the move to faster jet aircraft and particularly supersonic aircraft,” Bronk added. The Mark 81, 82, and 83, for instance, are longer and slenderer to reduce drag. 

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declined to comment to Insider when asked about the photos and whether unguided munitions were being used in Gaza. 

The unguided munitions in the photos look noticeably different from those equipped with JDAM kits, which turn unguided munitions into precision weapons. These have been seen in some other Israeli Air Force photos.

Israeli Air Force personnel working with a JDAM. The photo is from an October 10, 2023 post on X.
Israeli Air Force

Striking targets in Gaza with unguided munitions, as the Israeli Air Force posts indicate it is doing, increases the likelihood bombing operations will cause massive damage to areas outside the target zone, potentially killing civilians or damaging unrelated buildings and infrastructure.

“Dumb” bombs do not contain an internal guidance system or have one equipped externally, like bombs equipped with JDAMs, and they’ll generally follow the trajectory at which they were dropped, though weather, wind, angle, and other environmental factors may play a role in where the bomb actually lands. The abilities of the pilot and the aircraft play a role as well, for better or worse.

Unguided bombs would normally be used in a more open area where targets are more dispersed and the use isn’t indiscriminate, “but if you’re using them against targets in a built up area, then it is almost by definition indiscriminate, particularly when using this older style of unguided bomb with a much higher drag design,” Bronk said.

A higher drag means it is harder to drop the bomb on target, even using a modern fighter jet’s constantly computed impact point delivery mode, which uses software to provide a rough idea where the bomb will land and projects that spot onto the pilot’s display.

Smoke rises after bombing of Israeli forces with warplanes in Gaza City, October 7, 2023. Another munition can be seen falling toward a target.
Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“Modern fighter jets can be quite accurate with unguided munitions if the conditions are right,” Bronk said, “but you’re still talking about significantly less precise delivery than when using a JDAM or Paveway.”

And in airstrikes on an urban environment, like Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, precision is important for preventing civilian casualties.

The “low-cost guidance kit,” as manufacturer Boeing refers to the JDAM, “converts existing free-fall bombs into accurately guided smart weapons,” with the company noting a greater than 95% system reliability during testing and a less than 1.7 meter Circular Error Probable accuracy, meaning a munition equipped with a JDAM is highly likely to hit its intended target rather than shift outside the area. 

As Israel did during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, its forces have been using JDAMs in its current, nonstop strikes on Gaza. Early last week, the country urgently requested more JDAMs, as well as interceptors for their short-range aerial defense system Iron Dome, from the US. In addition to those showing unguided munitions, the Israeli Air Force has also posted photos and videos of JDAMs being employed on fighter jets, indicating they are currently in use. The Israeli military, however, declined to comment on that.

An Israeli aircraft carrying a JDAM-equipped munition. The photo comes from a post on X on Oct. 11, 2023.
Israeli Air Force

Though Israeli Air Force photos and videos regularly showed JDAMs early in the bombing campaign, unguided bombs started appearing more often in later images, leading some observers to speculate about possible supply issues as Israel burns through its stockpiles hammering Gaza. 

Last Thursday, the Israeli Air Force released a video of rows of munitions and guidance kits during the assembly process, but even though the footage showed a substantial supply, the rate of expenditure could be stressing Israel’s stockpiles.

The country’s air force said Thursday it had dropped about 6,000 bombs on Gaza since the airstrikes began October 7. In just six days, the Israelis dropped more bombs than the US-led coalition did in any single month of the campaign against ISIS, even at its peak.

Bronk said that Israel could be running low on JDAMs and potentially waiting on additional US aid or saving what it has for another fight, possibly against Hezbollah. Commenting on the apparent use of unguided munitions, he said “they’re probably choosing to use these to conserve other munitions rather than because they’re particularly appropriate.”

Fire and smoke rise above buildings in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike, on October 13, 2023, as raging battles between Israel and the Hamas movement continue for the sixth consecutive day.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

Part of the challenge for the Israeli Air Force’s air campaign is that Gaza is a densely populated area. The urban environment makes bombing inherently difficult. A 1,000- or 2,000-pound bomb, even if it is precision, can do tremendous damage to more than just the intended target in this kind of environment, putting civilians and infrastructure at risk.

Photos and videos coming from Gaza, including those posted by the Israeli Air Force, show absolutely obliterated streets from the strip, with rows of buildings destroyed by airstrikes. 

The attacks show little sign of slowing down, especially ahead of a likely imminent ground offensive in Gaza. “We started the offensive from the air, later on we will also come from the ground,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told soldiers near the Gaza border last Tuesday. “We’ve been controlling the area since day two and we are on the offensive. It will only intensify.”

As of Friday, the IDF said its air assault had struck over 2,600 Hamas targets in response to deadly terror attacks over the weekend that left at least 1,300 Israelis dead and thousands more wounded. The strikes on the Gaza Strip have in turn killed at least 2,600 Palestinians and injured over 9,500 other people.

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