FARNBOROUGH, England — Raytheon and the U.S. Air Force are testing a new, high-tech air-dropped bomb that can pinpoint targets from long distances, destroy stationary or moving targets and change course in flight using a two-way data link, officials said at the Farnborough International Airshow.
The Small Diameter Bomb II represents a technological departure from previously fielded precision-guided air-dropped weapons because of its ability to track and hit moving targets from long distances.
Most of the testing of the SBD II thus far has been on an Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter jet, however the weapon has also been fitted and tested on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Engineers are also working on plans to integrate the bomb onto the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-16 as well, Raytheon officials said.
GPS and laser-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions have been around for decades, however, they have primarily been designed for use against fixed or stationary targets.
A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.
“The really transformational thing about this product is the fact that our seeker, our tri-mode seeker, allows us to prosecute both those moving and stationary targets from standoff distances to exceed 40 nautical miles both on land and at sea,” said Mike Jarrett, vice president, air warfare systems, Raytheon.
A tri-mode seeker provides a range of guidance and targeting options typically not used together in one system. Millimeter wave radar gives the weapon an ability to navigate through adverse weather, conditions in which other guidance systems might encounter problems reaching or pinpointing targets.
Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle. With semi-active laser technology, the weapon can be guided to an exact point using a laser designator or laser illuminator coming from the air or the ground.
Also, the SBD II brings a new ability to track targets in flight through use of a two-way Link 16 and UHF data link, Raytheon officials said.
The Pentagon has already invested more than $700 million into SBD II development, Raytheon officials said.
Raytheon engineers and SDB II program managers are now working on what’s called the Engineering Manufacturing and Development phase and are poised to enter system-level qualifications. Over the next several months, SDB II development will go through what’s called system verification reviews wherein test results and aircraft integration are carefully analyzed.
Low Rate Initial Production of the bomb is slated for some time next year, Jarrett added.
Raytheon is also interested in acquiring international customers for the weapon, a strategy which can build allied or partner capacity while increasing production quantities and lowering costs.
“This requires a significant cooperation from the Air Force (U.S.). SDB II’s entry into the international market has strong interest from all interested parties. It ensures a kill where it needs to be done while minimizing collateral damage,” said Rico Rodriguez, director of strategy for air warfare systems, Raytheon.
Another cost-lowering strategy involves the possibility of using the promising tri-mode seeker technology for more weapons, Jarrett explained.
“We’re trying to work this as a modification in the sense that we can leverage it across a broader portfolio of programs. That is a fantastic thing to do from the standpoint of trying to drive cost out of the system and really put forward the affordability approach,” he added.