––Rachel S. Cohen
Raytheon and the Air Force are working toward initially fielding the new Small Diameter Bomb II, or "StormBreaker," on Boeing's F-15E. The program recently finished operational testing. Air Force photo via Raytheon.
The Air Force’s top weapons development official says Raytheon’s Small Diameter Bomb II, or “StormBreaker,” is ready for primetime despite needing to work out some lingering issues.
“Getting them out into the field, right now I think that's the best way for us to wring this out,” Air Force Weapons Program Executive Officer Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo said at a recent Air Force Life Cycle Management Center conference. “Get it into the hands of the people using it, figure out what they can do with it that we did not think of, figure out what things are happening in the operational environment that we were not able to replicate and test, and then feed that back into successive upgrades.”
The Pentagon plans to buy 17,000 SDB IIs, split between 12,000 for the Air Force and 5,000 for the Navy, and will fly them on all current Air Force fighter and bomber aircraft as well as the A-10, AC-130J, and MQ-9. StormBreaker was designed as a precision munition that can communicate with nearby aircraft to attack moving and stationary targets in bad weather and notch “multiple kills per pass,” according to the Air Force.
“The StormBreaker tri-mode seeker uses imaging infrared and millimeter wave radar in its normal mode to give pilots the ability to destroy moving targets, even in adverse weather, from standoff ranges,” Raytheon said in a press release. “Additionally, the weapon can use its semi-active laser guidance to hit targets.”
As of October 2018, the service planned to spend $1.9 billion on development and $2.6 billion on procurement, the Government Accountability Office reported in May.
StormBreaker’s ability to communicate with its host aircraft needs more vetting, Genatempo said, and other fixes are already being added into the current production batch, Lot 4. Its radio may not be fixed until Lot 6 or 7, and the service plans to address parts that will be outdated in Lot 8.
“Whether or not that is an issue that will prevent fielding, I don't think I can say that. I don't even think Air Combat Command can say that right now,” Genatempo said. “They very well may choose to take an initial delivery of these weapons at the capability they’re at, knowing that one caveat. … It certainly doesn't affect the entire envelope of operation of the weapon. It's a miniature part of one or two different scenarios.”
The weapon is moving closer to being declared ready for initial operations after finishing operational tests in June and an overall test program that uncovered a range of performance issues that Raytheon and government officials say are routine in the course of vetting. When airmen are ready to receive the new bomb is ultimately up to Air Combat Command.
“It's a very good conversation and dialogue with Air Combat Command about what they would like, when they would like it, what they're willing to take and employ,” Genatempo said. “I very much think that this weapon is ready to go out [to] operational use.”
The Air Force now expects to reach its “required assets available” milestone, which has changed multiple times, from the fourth quarter of fiscal 2019 through the end of 2020. It was most recently slated for January 2019. To meet RAA, the service must arm 12 Boeing F-15Es with 144 weapons and own spare parts, support equipment, and more. The milestone was originally scheduled for July 2017.
Genatempo said RAA was pushed back again to avoid punishing the program for having to wait its turn for testing ranges, as range availability is scarce thanks to several weapons programs simultaneously in testing. Delaying the milestone to later this year was “predominantly a paperwork exercise to make sure we didn't breach our [acquisition program baseline],” he said.
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