Air Force To Boost Production Of Heavily Used Munitions

The U.S. Air Force plans to increase production of four precision-guided munitions to meet high demand from warfighters across the globe, a service official said Oct. 17.

“Weapons are a big focus area right now across the Department of Defense, particularly those that are precision-type that we are utilizing so much of in the fight around the world today,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the Air Force acquisition office, who spoke at an Air Force Association breakfast on Capitol Hill.

Airmen load a 2,000 pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition onto a B-1B Lancer aircraft.

Airmen load a bomb with a Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kit onto a B-1B Lancer aircraft.

The Air Force is raising production of the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) to 45,000 bomb guidance tail kits a year, up from the current annual rate of 35,000. Congress recently approved a $153 million reprogramming request to support the higher rate.

The Air Force is also moving to expand production of the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) Increment 1 to 8,000 glide bombs a year, up from 5,000.

Boeing [BA] is the prime contractor for both JDAM and SDB Increment 1. Bunch said he has visited Boeing facilities to ensure they can handle the ramp-up in production.

The Air Force is also working with the Army to boost Hellfire missile production and with the Navy to step up production of the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rocket, Bunch said. Lockheed Martin [LMT] and BAE Systems build Hellfire and APKWS, respectively.

In other comments, Bunch said that the initial, or Block 0, version of the Global Positioning System (GPS) Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) is undergoing acceptance testing and that the Air Force expects to accept it from prime contractor Raytheon [RTN] in November. While Block 0 will not have all the capabilities of Blocks 1 and 2, it will allow the Air Force to begin launching Lockheed Martin-built GPS III satellites in the spring and check them out on orbit.

OCX has been plagued for years by cost overruns, schedule delays and problems with cyber security, software and systems engineering. It is undergoing a Milestone B review to formally consider its latest approach and cost estimate.

Bunch also said the Air Force will need to be further along in the technology maturation and risk reduction (TMRR) phase of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) to determine whether it can speed up the program. The Air Force awarded three-year TMRR contracts to Boeing and Northrop Grumman [NOC] less than two months ago (Defense Daily, Aug. 21).

“I think the most important thing we can do right now is let’s execute the TMRR and figure out exactly where we’re at,” he said. “That will inform us on the maturity of the technology to see if we can push something faster.”

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, has expressed interest in accelerating GBSD, which will replace the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.

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