Boeing [BA] is working to integrate the Air Force’s Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the rocket motors from the Army’s M26 Multiple Launch Rocket System to create a smarter ground-launched artillery option for combatant commanders while creating cost savings for the Army.

The M26 system is being demilitarized, with its Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition having been banned in a 2008 cluster munitions treaty. The Army must get rid of its entire stockpile of about 400,000 worldwide by 2019, leaving behind perfectly viable rocket motors, Jon Milner, manager for Boeing’s direct attack weapons programs, said Sept. 26 at the Modern Day Marine military exposition at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb
Boeing’s Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb leverages two existing programs to create a guided weapon system for artillery units. Photo courtesy Boeing.

“We just have such a huge Cold War inventory of those rockets,” he said. “The rocket motors are still good–we have to get rid of the warheads, but what can we do with these hundreds of thousands of rocket motors?”

The answer, the Army decided in 2010, was to replace the banned warheads with the Air Force’s SDB.

Boeing spent 2012 working on a design for an interstage adapter to connect the two pieces and finding the right suppliers to work with, Milner said. Boeing signed contracts with that supplier base earlier this year, and at the beginning of September the company passed its critical design review.

“Now that we’re confident with the design, we’ve got the suppliers on contract for the interstage adapter, now we just have to do the ground test and prove it out,” he said, adding that the interstage adapter was a fairly simple piece of technology to prove in testing this year before moving on to live-fire testing hopefully next year.

“In this case, it’s not invention, it’s engineering. It’s straightforward engineering,” said Chris Laski, Boeing’s Ground-launched SDB capture team lead.

“What we’ve been encouraged to do by our [Defense Department] customer is, find efficiencies, find innovative ways that you can use existing systems and give us more capability,” Laski added. “And that’s what the ground-launched SDB does.”

Laski characterized the program as a cost-avoidance and a capability-enhancement for militaries. Rather than paying to discard or store the leftover rocket motors, Boeing would turn them into an artillery tool that provides an alternative to simple ballistic trajectories, which is what ground units have typically been confined to.

Milner, who served as an artilleryman in the Army before joining Boeing, explained, “we really see this as modernizing the gunnery solution, where I can now fire in any direction off of that rocket launcher…and once the Small Diameter Bomb releases from the rocket, it can fly around terrain features, go into cave doors, breach different target sets. And that’s a capability the ground commander and the Army commander or Marine does not have the ability to do right now.”

The SDB would launch from either the six-pack launcher on a wheeled vehicle that the Marines use or a tracked vehicle with two six-pack launchers, Milner said. Once the rocket reached an altitude of about 40,000 feet, the interstage adapter would separate the rocket motor from the SDB, and the SDB’s wings would deploy and GPS guidance system would take over to reach its target. Boeing also builds a laser-guided SDB for moving targets and a Focused Lethality Munition variant to minimize collateral damage, and Milner said all three variants the Air Force already uses could be used by the Army and Marine Corps with these rockets–which are essentially being viewed by the company as an alternate delivery vehicle to the F-15 aircraft.

Milner said he believes the company could field the product relatively quickly. Because both the rocket motor and the SDB are in use, he said he hoped the system might be able to use past data in lieu of going through safety certifications and other testing required of new programs.

“What we envision is, because you have two combat proven items that DoD is already very familiar with, we think that there’ s plenty of test data on the Air Force side and on the Army side that at the DoD level you could look at it and say, we know what these two things are going to do,” he said. “All we really have to do is prove this [interstage adapter] piece, but it’s not a very hard piece to prove out.”