Air Force Buys First 144 Small Diameter Bombs

SDB IIThe Air Force has moved into production of its Small Diameter Bomb II that can pinpoint targets from long distances, destroy stationary or moving targets and change course in flight using a two-way data link, service officials said.

“Using its dual-band weapon data link, it can change targets in flight and can be controlled by a third party,” Col. Kevin Hickman, SDB II Program Manager, told in a written statement.

The Air Force awarded a $30.9 million deal this past June to Raytheon for an initial increment of 144 bombs.

The potential value of the entire SDB II production run is expected to be $2.792 billion for 17,000 SDB II weapons – 12,000 for the Air Force and 5,000 for the Navy, Air Force officials told

“These weapons are expected to be procured through 2025,” Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said in a written statement.

The move toward formal production and operational status for the weapon comes on the heels of recent successful tests of the SDB II.

Several months ago, an Air Force F-15 Eagle destroyed a moving surrogate-model T-72 tank during a live-fire test of the new Small Diameter Bomb II at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., service leaders said.

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 seeker allows the weapon to attack stationary and moving targets at distances greater than 40 nautical miles on land and at sea, Raytheon officials said.

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 SBD II is engineered to weigh only 208 pounds, a lighter weight than most other air dropped bombs, so that eight of them can fit on the inside of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Raytheon officials explained.

If weapons are kept in an internal weapons bay and not rested on an external weapons pod, then an aircraft can succeed in retaining its stealth properties because the shapes or contours of the weapons will not be visible to enemy radar.

Plasma Jets

About 105 pound of the SDB II is an explosive warhead which encompasses a “blast-frag” capability and a “plasma-jet” technology designed to pierce enemy armor, a Raytheon official explained.

The SDB II also has the ability to classify targets, meaning it could for example be programmed to hit only tanks in a convoy as opposed to other moving vehicles.  The weapon can classify tanks, boats or wheeled targets, a Raytheon official added.

Prior to the award of this contract, the Pentagon and Raytheon have already invested more than $700 million into SBD II development, Raytheon officials said.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • highguard

    Thanks John!! $2.8B on a weapon that lacks survivability on the modern battlefield. They’ll need to spend $5B for 24,000 instead of 12,000 (similar to JDAM) since SDB-II is a subsonic glide weapon that will not survive enemy MRAD, SHORAD and CIWS/C-RAM defending the targets. Lots of time and defenses to pick off all (6) six dropped from the same 5th Gen A/C that will have to risk its priceless remaining cargo (the pilot) and its $85M skin to strafe the target when the Msn Cmdr realizes that it is the only way to take it out. USAF was told this but the bureaucracy, influenced by SASC, is too _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ to put two and two together and get it right. I’m so sick and tired of this _ _ _ _!!

  • Papa

    “…it can change targets in flight and can be controlled by a third party…”
    I hope it cannot be controller by the opposing party.

  • jjstraight

    That is a really expensive bomb for such a small payload. We need to make the sensor module on the bomb detach at the last moment and fly back to the plane.

    How many of these are going to be used to kill 2 or 3 guys in robes and sandals carrying 40 year old AKs

    • Curt

      Probably not many, a LGB or LSDBI would be a better choice, but why not use a APKWS instead.

    • shelory

      you are funny! why don’t you make the bomb explode, rebuild itself and FedEx itself back to the US…

    • shon

      The US has cheaper munitions for COIN envirments. The tri-head seaker is for high threat enviorments.

    • Guest


  • Dfens

    What, it’s going into production? Clearly this program needs to be cancelled because it sucks and the next program will be better. Let’s not build any of these. What we have is good enough and will be for forever and ever. In fact, I’ve read that these bombs will actually target and kill our own troops in most cases. This is a travesty an all the people who think it should be built are working for the defense contractor and they suck.

    • DawgNayshun

      Moronic comment.


    “The SDB II also has the ability to classify targets, meaning it could for example be programmed to hit only tanks in a convoy as opposed to other moving vehicles.”

    Now that’s a smart bomb.

  • Bernard

    That trimode seeker stuff is awesome. It must be nearly jam proof.

  • Charles

    I wonder which variant of the JSF they tested it on? There was at least one version of the JSF (the “B” variant) where this version of the SDB won’t fit into the internal bombay.

    It would be kind of ironic if the first version of the JSF (F-35B) couldn’t carry SDB-II’s internally, considering thats the first one thats supposed to reach IOC this year…

  • flying ducthman

    WOW, that ‘only’ $208,000 per bomb. Then we can put them on a F-35 that costs only $ 300,000,000 each and go kill a ISIS leader in a mud hut in a Islamic state. Is that economy of scale or what? Probably wouldn’t cost us more than $500,000,000,000,000 to take out the entire ISIS leadership. Or, we could just nuke the whole area.

  • pilum57

    Anyone care to define what “…its ability to track and hit moving targets from long distances.” is? Because the only range estimate I see is ~40NM which if we are planing on using this against a peer or near peer adversary is way to short legged for modern contested airspace. The comment regarding rocket assisted ER might help but if it can’t get over the ~100NM range I’m not sure this is the best investment money can buy.

  • Robbie

    You guys can’t stand to hear good news, can you? What a bunch of nonstop whiners….

    • changey

      Paid trolls more than likely. Question is, who’s paying them?

      • displacedjim


    • Joe Sovereign

      Some of us are not excited about another $3 billion thrown on the pyre of perpetual war while our nation is bankrupt, regardless of how impressive the marketing material on new features are.

  • JR Jansen

    “Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle.”
    FYI, the proper phrase is, “HOME in,” (as in HOMING pigeon or HOMING beacon) not “HONE in.”
    You HONE (sharpen) a knife or HONE your skills. “HONE” does NOT mean “to find one’s way.”

  • oblatt23

    The SDBII is already obsolete on the modern battlefield. Its a perfect complement to the F-35.

    The funniest part are all the old capabilities going back decades that are wheeled out as a new miracle. One can only assume that the people cheering it on where born yesterday.

    • DawgNayshun

      We are dropping dozens of JDAMS and SDB1s daily. I assume you have evidence to back up your statement that the SDB2 is obsolete. I have evidence that says the warfighter is begging this to get to IOC so they can start using it.

  • Lightingguy

    Amazing. 36 posts and nobody blamed Obama !

  • Old Platoon Sergeant

    To save my unit I would call an arc light or battleship on a sniper. The dude in the mud sez just shoot somewhere among us. One of us needs relief.

  • virgil cuttaway

    i know they are different weapons but what can this do that Brimstone cant? Really nothing.

    • Guest

      Brimstone max range – 12 miles.
      SDB II max range – greater than 40 miles with a subsonic drop. With a supersonic drop it could approach 100 miles.

    • displacedjim

      Also SDB II could be dropped while flying away from the target, and the weapon will turn back to it. Fuzing options allow for penetration of hardened targets like shelters and bunkers, and airbursts. Also has a 105lb warhead rather than a 20lb warhead.

  • virgil cuttaway

    The Brimstone II will have a 37+ mile range.

  • gkm

    $164,000 apiece.the taliban uses cheap ak.s, mortars and ied,s. every body knows they will take over afghanistan. they will bankrupt the defense department. good strategy.

  • max1mos111

    A few years back, the millimeter wave technology was a myth. Oh, how technology has evolved so rapidly.