Weapons of the Russo-Ukrainian War: UPAB-1500 guided glide bombs

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

In early March 2023, several news outlets reported that the Russians had used a new type of bomb for the first time since the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which the media described as "UPAB-1500V". This bomb was described as an "intelligent" bomb equipped with both inertial and satellite guidance systems that could be used against highly protected and paying targets such as bunkers and fortified lines located in depth. The media also described this bomb as "shown to the public for the first time in 2019", "equipped with a warhead of 1010 kilograms" and "capable of hitting a target located 40 kilometers away provided it was dropped from an altitude of 14.000 meters high".

At first that acronym and the relative data left me perplexed because they did not match the description of any bomb of my knowledge present in the Russian arsenal. Having investigated the matter in detail I can now say that, yes, it is true that since the beginning of March of this year the Russians have ushered in the use of a new class of weapons in the context of the Russo-Ukrainian War , but at the same time the media have, once again, mixed different data and news helping to create further confusion in the already complicated enough world of Russian aircraft munitions.

Those who have had the opportunity to take an interest in the matter in the past will know that both the Soviet Union first and then Russia have also, like the West, invested in the development of so-called "intelligent" weapons. These programs, which began between the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s of the twentieth century, have in recent decades led to the development of various models of bombs and cruise missiles with laser, TV, satellite guidance and so on. One of the most interesting programs is the one that led to the introduction of the UPAB-1500.

The UPAB-1500 (acronym that stands for Универсальная Планирующая Авиационная Бомба – Universalnaya Planiruyushchaya Aviatsionnaya Bomba, translatable as "Universal Planing Aerial Bomb") was presented for the first time in the form of a prototype in 2005 and was credited with a range of 70 kilometers if released from an orbiting aircraft at 10.000 meters altitude.

It seems that the guidance system of the first generation UPAB-1500 was the same developed for the contemporary KAB-1500TK and including an electro-optical sensor in the front section and a transceiver for the data link (datalink) in the tail section with the task to transfer both sensor images and attitude change inputs between the bomb itself and the Raduga APK-9E datalink pod Tekon transported by the aircraft in charge of dropping the bomb.

At the time of its introduction the UPAB-1500 could be integrated on the following aircraft: Su-24M2, Su-30, Su-34, Tu-22M3 and Tu-160.

In practical terms, the guidance system and technical characteristics made the UPAB-1500 a direct analogue of the GBU-15/EGBU-15 series of US origin, but with better glide characteristics and a longer range.

The general appearance, and aerodynamic characteristics in particular, of the weapon at the time of its appearance were unusual in that it featured a high aspect ratio, short-tailed, cruciform folding wing design unique among contemporary glide bombs. When folded, the cruciform main airfoils were inserted into courses located at the front of the ordnance. The tail controls used were clearly inspired by those already present in the trailing edge of the KAB-500 and KAB-1500 bombs.

At the time of its appearance, the Russian authorities took care to ensure the integration of the weapon on all commercial derivatives of the Su-30 aircraft, so as to guarantee the possibility of maximum expansion on the export market, simultaneously proposing future variants equipped of different guidance packages, even if the satellite/inertial guidance system turned out to be the most popular on balance.

The passing of years has seen the introduction of several variants of the UPAB-1500, among which the most successful one both at home and abroad has been the UPAB-1500Kr, however to date no variant named “UPAB-1500V” is been introduced. The confusion on this point originates from an erroneous identification made by Ukrainian online propaganda (or by its foreign managers, especially British) who have mixed the data of this fictitious "UPAB-1500V" with the real ones of the K08BE and K029E glide bombs ( the latter also known as UPAB-1500BE), carrying 500 and 1500 kilograms of war cargo, presented precisely during the Russian defense salon MAKS 2019 and subsequently adopted by the Russian Air Force.

Such was the confusion on the part of the "media" that in reading the official designation made on the body of the device they misunderstood the Cyrillic letters "Б" and "В" which mean respectively "B" and "V" and omitted the "Э" which means "E" believing that it was associated with the "export" variant, but otherwise, data and performance of the K08BE and K029E match perfectly with what was initially reported by the media about the phantom "UPAB-1500V".

This explains the origin of the error which then spread like wildfire in our media.

That said, one cannot help but notice how, as the conflict progresses, Moscow is gradually raising the bar by gradually introducing new weapon systems to increase military pressure against Ukraine.

Photo: Twitter / web