Amid outcry over civilian casualties in Gaza, experts note Israel's so-called 'dumb bombs' can be used with precision

Israel is doing all it can to mitigate civilian harm, a U.S. official said.

December 15, 2023, 1:33 PM

The unguided, so-called "dumb bombs" used by Israel in Gaza can achieve heightened accuracy when deployed in conjunction with dive bombing and other tactics, experts tell ABC News -- an issue that has come to the forefront amid the outcry over mounting civilian casualties there.

Roughly 40-45% of the air-to-ground munitions used by Israel in Gaza have been unguided, so-called "dumb bombs," a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News, summarizing the findings of an American intelligence report. The rest of the bombs have been precision-guided munitions, the assessment added. Israel's rate of "dumb bomb" usage was first reported by CNN on Thursday.

The numbers assessed by the U.S. intelligence report would suggest a historically high level of precision weapons usage in urban warfare, according to ABC News contributor Steve Ganyard, a former State Department official and Marine Corps fighter pilot.

"Precision weapons are expensive and in short supply compared to 'dumb' bombs, but if Israel is using precision aerial weapons 55-60% of the time, then that is more than any country in the history of urban warfare," Ganyard said.

Furthermore, experts and U.S. officials told ABC News there are tactics that can be used to drop these weapons, which are more neutrally referred to as "unguided munitions," with precision, and to largely avoid needlessly killing or injuring civilians.

Whereas precision-guided munitions use on-board technology to reliably strike their targets, tactics such as dive bombing and dropping from lower altitudes can be used to boost the precision of unguided weapons, according to four U.S. officials familiar with the methods. Pilots can also use advanced ballistic computers to reliably predict where their bombs will land.

Israel is making use of these tactics, according to an official with the U.S. Department of Defense.

"Israel is doing everything it can to mitigate civilian harm and casualties, including with its use of unguided munitions," the DOD official said.

PHOTO: An Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies near the Israeli border with Gaza, Dec. 10, 2023,  in Ashkelon, Israel.
An Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies near the Israeli border with Gaza, Dec. 10, 2023, in Ashkelon, Israel.
Amir Cohen/Reuters

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder bolstered this claim during a briefing with reporters Thursday, saying modern militaries like Israel can use a variety of weapons in ways "that can help enhance precision."

He added that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has reiterated what he sees as the importance of limiting harm to Gazan civilians in frequent talks with his Israeli counterpart.

"I'm not going to get into Israeli operations and talk about their tactics, techniques, and procedures, other than again, we have underscored the importance of civilian safety," Ryder said.

The discussion of Israel's bombing techniques follows President Joe Biden on Tuesday delivering some of his harshest criticism for Israel's battle tactics to date, remarking at a campaign fundraiser that the country was beginning to lose international support due to "the indiscriminate bombing that takes place," according to a White House transcript.

The White House has struggled to explain Biden's comments, with White House spokesperson John Kirby saying Wednesday, "We're not gonna armchair quarterback this from this particular podium."

"The president was reflecting a concern that we have had for some time and will continue to have as this military operation proceeds about the need for reducing civilian harm and being as precise and careful and deliberate as possible," Kirby added during Wednesday's White House press briefing.

At least 1,200 people have been killed in Israel following Hamas' surprise Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, according to the Israeli prime minister's office. Over 18,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

ABC News' Cindy Smith and Shannon Crawford contributed to this report.

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