The U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC) has cleared the 204-pound, GBU-53/B Stormbreaker munition by Raytheon [RTX] for operational use after more than a decade of development.
On Sept. 23, ACC approved carriage and use of the Stormbreaker, formerly known simply as the Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II), on F-15E Strike Eagles.
Air Force Col. Jason Rusco, the senior materiel leader for Air Force Materiel Command’s (AFMC) miniature munitions division at Eglin AFB, Fla., said in a statement that the Stormbreaker’s ability to attack stationary and moving targets from 45 miles away in all-weather is “unmatched and is a game-changer for national defense.”
Stormbreaker features a multi-mode seeker that guides the bomb by imaging infrared, millimeter wave radar and semi-active laser in addition to GPS and inertial navigation system guidance.
“SDB II’s ability to attack moving targets, at range in adverse weather, delivers a significant advantage to our warfighter’s arsenal,” per Air Force Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the program executive officer for Air Force weapons.
AFMC said that the 96th Test Wing’s 40th Flight Test Squadron, the 780th Test Squadron, the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, Detachment 2 and the 53rd Wing’s 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Eglin AFB flew 138 developmental and operational flight tests to gain ACC approval of the Stormbreaker.
The Air Force has said that Stormbreaker’s recognition algorithms would allow the U.S. to impose “no drive zones” in dense ground environments. Paul Ferraro, vice president of Raytheon missiles and defense’s air power business, said that Stormbreaker gives aircrews “the ability to strike maritime or land-based maneuvering targets at range in adverse weather.”
Plans call for fielding Stormbreaker on the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet by Boeing [BA] later this year followed by integration on the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35. Air Force Special Operations Command has also said it plans to carry the munitions on its Lockheed Martin AC-130J gunships.
Raytheon said that it completed integration of the Stormbreaker on the U.S. Air Force F-15E in April 2018.
All F-35 variants are to carry Stormbreaker by 2023, according to Raytheon, which said that the F-35 can carry eight Stormbreaker weapons internally and eight on the wings. That 2023 date is a year later than planned. COVID-19 has led to delays in production of the munition.
Raytheon won a $450 million contract for SDB II development in August, 2010 after the Pentagon re-started the competition. Boeing had won the initial SDB development contract in August 2003, but the Government Accountability Office sustained a protest by Lockheed Martin and overturned that award in 2005 due to bias toward Boeing by former Air Force acquisition chief Darleen Druyun who got Boeing to carve out a position for her daughter at the company. Boeing hired Druyun’s daughter and future son-in-law in the fall of 2000. While Druyun was the Air Force’s acquisition executive, the service removed the moving target requirements on the munition–requirements for which Lockheed Martin’s seeker was specialized–before awarding the contract to Boeing.
Druyun retired from the Air Force in November, 2002 and assumed a $250,000 per year position at Boeing in January, 2003.
In November, 2003, the Air Force executed a justification and approval providing for the addition, on a sole-source basis, of the phase II moving target requirements to the Boeing SDB development contract.
In 2004, Druyun pleaded guilty to a corruption charge involving inflated prices for a Boeing refueling tanker contract with the Air Force. She served nine months in prison from January, 2005 to September, 2005.