Small Wars Journal

Ukrainian F-16s and All NATO Aircraft Should Be Properly Armed with Precision-Guided Cluster Munitions- JSOW and WCMD Weapons

Wed, 03/27/2024 - 6:53am

Ukrainian F-16s and All NATO Aircraft Should Be Properly Armed with Precision-Guided Cluster Munitions- JSOW and WCMD Weapons


By Daniel Rice, MSeD

F-16s will soon be arriving in Ukraine.   That is publicly available information.  What is not known, is what armaments packages they will bring- what rockets, missiles, electronic warfare, navigation systems and bombs they will carry.  We have, in the past, sent in weapons platforms with the suboptimal weapons for the Ukrainian mission, and we should not make that mistake again with the F-16s. 


As an example, in 2022 Ukraine began receiving NATO standard 155mm artillery systems from France, UK, Germany, US and others, of all types.  However, the ammunition was 155mm High Explosive (HE), not cluster munitions.  It wasn’t until November 2022, that cluster artillery shells from Turkey for 155mm Howitzers started arriving with 3,500 rounds in the Battle of Bakhmut.  These Turkish shells were limited in quantify.  
In summer 2023, President Biden supported a bi-partisan support from the House and Senate to provide US supplied 155mm DPICM in larger quantities.  These are precise artillery shells that will be fired upon only Russian military targets in Ukraine occupied territory.  


Another example, in the summer of 2022, Ukraine started receiving HIMARs M142 rocket launchers from the US and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) from the US, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Germany.   But the rockets they received were all unity rockets with a single explosive. Ukraine started receiving these in June 2022, and did not receive cluster artillery rockets and missiles for these systems until October 2023.  In October 2023, HIMARS cluster rockets and missiles, (M-26 and M-39 series respectively) appeared on the battlefield unannounced and had incredible effects immediately with two strikes on Russian airfields that destroyed a reported 24 Russian Alligator attack helicopters.  

Each of these cluster munitions systems were delayed by months and years, due to political delays. And those delays cost Ukrainian lives and momentum.   And extended the war. 

F-16s were delayed due to politics.  When they finally do arrive, over two years after the start of the war, they should come fully armed with the right weapons.   The F-16 has nine “hard points” that can carry air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, bombs, electronic countermeasures (EW) and weapons and navigation pods.   

Two of the weapons that should be approved so that the Ukrainian pilots can be trained in their application, are precision guided cluster munitions, the Wind Corrected Weapons Dispenser (WCMD) or AGM-145 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW).  The AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) is a 1,000 lb air to ground missile with 145 BLU-97 submunitions. The JSOW has a 12 to 63 mile standoff range.   


The WCMD is a Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser which converts previously “dumb” air to ground cluster munitions into a very accurate weapon capable of hitting targets within 26 meters (85 feet) by using an Inertial Navigation System (INS). This can convert a whole series of cluster munitions such as CBU-87, CBU-89 and CBU-97.  


The U.S. has an extensive inventory of the CBU series cluster munitions.   All of these weapons are both anti-personnel and anti-armor.   These weapons can be devastating to Russian front line troops especially in Russian offensive operations when they are exposed.  

Arming F-16s will give Ukraine increased range and capabilities to inflect losses on large Russian troops formations, command and control and supply depots throughout temporarily occupied Ukraine.   These weapons also have a ‘standoff’ range between 20 km and 100 kilometers.  This means the aircraft do not necessarily have to fly over enemy controlled airspace and can send these precision weapons from a safer zone and let them glide into enemy territory to precisely hit Russian targets with an area weapon, with maximum effect. 

The war has become a war of attrition, and cluster munitions, being the most lethal, are one of the best ways to increase Russian casualties.  The artillery howitzers, HIMARS rocket launchers, and F-16s should all have large quantities of cluster munitions to destroy Russian units in large numbers, to deny the Russians the use of the temporarily occupied territories, until they leave Ukraine to the 1991 borders.  


If Russian forces attack the Scandinavian or Baltic Countries, and trigger Article V “an attack on one is an attack on all”, Pilots from all NATO countries will be obligated to defend the country or countries that is being attacked.   It would be ludicrous to limit their weaponry, based on whether Russia attacked Estonia/Latvia vs Lithuania.   If they are flying a sortie over the border of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, they should not have to determine over which border they can use, which weapons.  


Lithuania and Norway are the only two NATO countries that border Russia and have ratified the Cluster Munitions Convention.  They should voluntarily abandon this Convention to show a unity of support allowing all NATO countries to send their pilots in with the best, most lethal weapons for the Mission, Enemy, Time, Terrain, Troops &Civilian Considerations (METT-TC) as determined by their commanders. 


Cluster munitions received an unfair “demonization” from the Cluster Munitions Convention of Oslo in 2008.  Any weapon, if used indiscriminately against civilians, is a war crime and illegal.   The Russian army is using all types of weapons, littering and contaminating Ukrainian land with unexploded ordnance (UXOs) with extremely high “dud rates”.  The Russians do not care. If they win the war, they will not clear the land of unexploded ordnance. If they lose the war, they hope the Ukrainians cannot use the land.  Ukraine wants to win the war, then clear the land of unexploded ordnance and live in peace.   


If NATO is attacked, all NATO aircraft should be armed with the best armaments to defend all of NATO, and cluster munitions are one of those weapons. 


These cluster bombs will help them achieve that objective.  


About the Author(s)

Dan Rice is a 1988 graduate of West Point and is the President of the American University Kyiv and the Co-President of Thayer Leadership at West Point.  He holds an MBA from Kellogg/Northwestern, a master’s in journalism and Marketing from Medill/Northwestern, a Masters of Education from the University of Pennsylvania and has completed all doctoral classes in Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.   He served in the Infantry in combat in Iraq in 2004-2005.  Dan served as Special Advisor to the Commander in Chief of Ukraine Armed Forces (May 2022-March 2023) as an unpaid volunteer. He has been the primary advocate for Cluster Munitions for Ukraine and received the Saint Barbara’s Medal in 2023 for his advocacy that helped gain cluster artillery shells in July 2023, and then cluster rockets and missiles in October 2023.