#NewsBytesExplainer: How Israelis neutralize Palestinian buildings - Physics behind it
The deluge of videos coming out of Gaza has everyone wondering how the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been taking down specific buildings in a controlled manner, where the structures collapse upon themselves without any apparent collateral damage. While the Israelis remain tight-lipped about how they've achieved the feat, the answer surprisingly lies in a British World War II technique used against Nazi fortifications.
Our first clue lies in the screen-grab alongside depicting the munition's trajectory moments before it hits a building. Unlike conventional bombs that hit structures from the top, this one is aimed squarely at the foundation at a near 45-degree angle. This technique is similar to that used in Grand Slam seismic bombs developed by the British to paralyze German industries while minimizing civilian casualties.
These WWII precursors to modern bunker busters penetrated deep underground by leveraging the kinetic energy of extremely heavy bombs with reinforced casings. Instead of dropping these bombs directly onto Nazi structures, they entered through the relatively soft ground alongside and penetrated deep into the foundation. A delayed fuse would then ensure detonation, creating a camouflet (cavern) imploding upon itself and swallowing the entire structure.
This technique is brilliant because destructive shockwaves are not only more effective against the denser building foundation, but restricting shockwaves underground also prevents them from damaging surrounding buildings and killing civilians. Now that we know how the IAF precisely takes down Hamas structures using a WWII-era British technique, let's take a look at what Israeli munitions could be used to carry out these strikes.
Israeli defense manufacturer Rafael's SPICE bolt-on guidance kit is the natural candidate here for obvious reasons. Similar to US-made JDAM kit, SPICE is a hybrid GPS-cum-electro-optical add-on that can transform conventional bombs into smart munitions, which can be precisely steered to targets typically up to 60km away. These are available in two variants of 1,000 and 2,000lbs payload capacities.
The SPICE guidance kits are well-known for being fielded by the Indian Air Force in deep strikes against Jaish-e-Mohammed training camps in the Balakot area of Pakistan. The glide bomb system's 60km stand-off range, combined with its fire-and-forget capability, allowed Indian fighter jets to drop these air-to-surface munitions and escape before they could detonate, thereby catching enemy defense systems off guard.
There is one problem with this theory. It's incredibly hard to figure out the unit cost of SPICE munitions, but India signed a Rs. 300cr deal for around 100 of these in 2019. That makes sense since their DSMAC AI-based guidance system allows each bomb to compare pre-loaded target images against what it sees through onboard cameras, thereby assuring confirmed hits without external guidance.
India was compelled to use SPICE munitions, because it struck targets deep inside a nuclear state guarded by long-range Surface-to-Air missile batteries, which make their large 60km stand-off distance and AI-enabled smart guidance systems absolutely necessary to fire and retreat immediately. However, as per a recent Israeli Defense Forces assessment, Hamas only has extremely short-range anti-aircraft defenses consisting of anti-aircraft cannons and shoulder-launched missiles.
That brings us to the most probable weapons system—the US-made Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM guidance kit. With a stand-off distance of 28km, it can steer clear of all known Hamas air defenses. Despite being similar to SPICE, its modular design allows the guidance system to range from cheap and simple laser seeking opto-electronics to more expensive and complicated precision guidance units.
Because JDAM kits don't use guidance technology borrowed from cruise missiles like SPICE does, they are significantly cheaper, with unit cost ranging from $18,000 to $40,000 depending on the configuration. However, the best clue comes from the screenshot alongside, where you can clearly see the tell-tale JDAM aerodynamic strakes across the fuselage, which direct air over the tail fins for better steering efficiency.
There you have it—the Israelis are using a WWII-era tactic to minimize civilian casualties while taking out military targets embedded within civilian areas. Israel additionally sends in roof-knockers, which are non-explosive, low yield devices meant to scare civilians out of the buildings before the actual strike happens. But won't that also alert the bad guys? Well, that is an investigation for another day.