US Air Force Tests Smart 'StormBreaker' Munition on F-35 Fighter Jets

The munition can hit targets even in inclement weather.
Ameya Paleja
The weapon can classify and prioritize targetsRaytheon Missile and Defense

The U.S. Air Force has begun the process of integrating the StormBreaker smart weapon on its F-35 Joint Striker aircraft and recently conducted a drop test, said a press release from the makers of the weapon, Raytheon Missiles and Defense. 

StormBreaker, known through its development as the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) II, is an air-launched glide bomb. Bad weather, smoke, or dust can be used by adversaries as a cover from fighter aircraft weaponry. The U.S. military was therefore keen on a weapon that could work even in inclement weather. 

Raytheon's offering for such a weapon was a small bomb not more than seven inches (18 cm) wide, 69 inches (176 cm) long weighing just over 200 pounds (93 kg). Due to their relatively small size, the U.S. military can pack up to 20 such weapons on a single F-15E Strike Eagle. 

Adding to the firepower on the StormBreaker are the different capabilities of its warheads. According to the press release, the StormBreaker is equipped with "shape charge jets, fragmentation, and blast charge effects." What this essentially means is that the bomb can be used against a wide range of targets ranging from infantry to structures, armors as well as patrolling boats. Raytheon also boasts of an optional smart delayed fuze that is powerful enough to blow up a tank. 

It is the tri-mode seeker that makes the SDB II, the StormBreaker that it claims to be. Equipped with an infrared imager and multimeter wave radar, the weapon can seek its targets in fog, smoke, and even heavy rains. It can then use data from semi-active laser or GPS-based guidance systems to identify its target. Users also have the option of a semi-autonomous mode, where the weapon can use the data to classify and prioritize potential targets before hitting them. 

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With a range of 45 miles (72 km) for stationary as well moving targets, fighter aircraft can aim at their targets from safe distances without engaging in high-risk areas. Thanks to its networking capabilities, the weapon can be fired, and its control then handed over to another platform to complete the mission, Raytheon claims.  

Last year, the U.S. Air Force cleared the StormBreaker for use on the F-15s and initiated the trials on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets which are next in line to get the weapon. The drop test on the F-35 was to check the communication link between the weapon and a secondary aircraft, Raytheon said in its press release. 

As workhorses for the U.S. military in the near future, the F-35s definitely need such a versatile weapon.

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