Precision Guided Munitions

“In the past, wars’ slaughter has been largely confined to armed combatants. Obviously the airman, riding so high above the earth that cities look like ant hills, cannot aim his deadly cargo at armed males. All below will be his impartial target.”

Major Gen. James Fechet, US Army Air Corps, 1933

Precision Guided Munitions (PGM’s) are highly precise bombs. Usually, a laser held by a soldier or mounted to an aircraft guides the bombs. Bombs are launched by aircraft, submarines, land vehicles, and individual soldiers. Because PGM’s are more accurate they are also more lethal against their intended target and less likely to destroy an incorrect target.


Lobbing projectiles is an ancient practice. Bombs dropped from aircraft originated during WWI when pilots would literally pick up and drop a bomb from the cockpit. During the interwar years and WWII, aircraft and bombing technology increased at a rapid pace. Primitive devices calculate aircraft speed, wind speed, and altitude to guide when to drop a bomb. Gravity took control once a bomb dropped.

In 1942, the Germans developed radio-controlled guided bombs. Radio signals controlled the bombs after deployment. They also developed a radio-controlled “glide-bomb” that flew up to six miles (9.5km) to destroy ships. By 1944, German radio-controlled bombs flew 19-miles (30km) with a nose-mounted radio television and radio uplink.

In 1943, the Allies in turn released their own radio-controlled bombs. The famous Bridge over the Kwai River was destroyed by a US radio-controlled bomb. The US used 1,357 “AZON” radio-bombs to destroy 41 bridges. By 1945, the US released “The Bat,” the first autonomous “fire and forget” radar-controlled glide-bomb.

PGM’s took a back-seat in the post-war decades due primarily to cost. Armies focused on nuclear weapons and conventional bombs. Less than 1% of bombs dropped in Vietnam were PGM’s. One exception is Israel, which decisively used PGM’s during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. A small number of extremely accurate PGM bombs developed by Israel proved decisive in stopping tanks. This sparked renewed interest by both the US and USSR.

PGM’s Become Mainstream

By the 1980s, American bombs could fly day or night, retain altitude, and attack pinpoint targets. By the first Gulf War, about 10% of US bombs were PGM’s but they accounted for 75% of total damage.

The latest PGM, developed by the US, is a flying knife-bomb intended to eliminate damage beyond the targeted individual.

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