The 780th Test Squadron and 40th Flight Squadron of the U.S. Air Force joined hands to successfully complete the first-ever load, flight, and release of the GBU-72 Advanced 5K Penetrator weapon, a press release said.
The weapon was released at 35,000 feet (10.66 km) by an F-15E Strike Eagle from the 96th Test Wing on July 23 and the assessment also included a ground test wherein a warhead detonates inside an arena that is equipped with blast pressure sensors and fragment counting equipment. This helps in determining the lethality of the weapon tested and the Elgin Air Base called this weapon release its largest-ever arena test, twice the intensity of the previous largest arena test.
The GBU-72 was designed for both fighter and bomber aircraft and developed to overcome hardened deeply buried target challenges, the press release said. The weapon's design and its effectiveness were completed using advanced modeling and simulation techniques, even before the warhead was forged.
Citing the advantages of using these techniques, James Culliton, GBU-72 Program Manager, said that early prototypes are production representatives. "This helps us bring our operational test partners in sooner with eyes on, hands-on participation, validating our design and procedures sooner while including input that improves the weapon," Culliton added.
During the test, the squadrons were also able to successfully validate a modified 2,000-pound joint-direct-attack-munition tail kit and its ability to control and navigate the weapon. According to the press release, the test series consisted of three flights, which were complex since these were the first releases of the GBU-72 weapons.
Comparing it to previous weapons of the type, the U.S. Air Force expects the lethality of the GBU-72 to be substantially higher. But it is likely to be lesser than the 30,000 pounds GBU-57/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator that the Air Force already uses. The GBU-72's integration and operational testing will continue through 2022, the press release said.