A report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has noted that the deployment of the US Air Force’s GBU-53 StormBreaker, better known as the Small Diameter Bomb II, has been delayed by almost a year due to a problem with the gliding bomb’s folding wings.
The Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) is a 204-pound weapon fitted with a pair of long gliding wings that enable it to glide for up to 40 nautical miles, homing in on its target using three separate systems: infrared imaging, millimeter-wave radar and semi-active laser. The bomb is anticipated to be deployed on the F/A-18 Hornet, F-15 Eagle and F-35 Lightning II.
However, a serious problem affecting the functioning of the bomb’s gliding wings has delayed production and initial operational capability (IOC) for nearly a year, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, an investigatory unit of the US Congress.
Responding to the report, US Air Force spokesperson Capt. Jake Bailey told Defense News that the problem is due to a “backup fin storage device” which causes “vibration fatigue over long flight hours.”
Also, according to the GAO the bomb’s long gliding fins, which remain folded atop the bomb during storage, could “inadvertently deploy before launch.”
“While this problem could affect all aircraft carrying the bomb, officials said the greatest impact is to the F-35, because the bomb is carried in the aircraft’s internal weapons bay and could cause serious damage if the fins deploy while the bomb is in the bay,” the report notes. LINK
According to Raytheon, the US Air Force and Navy have begun StormBreaker ‘smart weapon’ integration activities on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft. Raytheon Missiles & Defense completed development and integration on the F-15E Strike Eagle in April 2018.
The SDB would be particularly useful to the F-35, as the plane’s internal bomb bay is not large enough to store many weapons. The plane’s Block 4 upgrade has also been delayed, preventing it from carrying other weapons such as the Naval Strike Missile and B61 nuclear bomb.
Raytheon has been forced to retrofit at cost all 598 SDBs delivered to the Air Force with a redesigned clip that reduces vibration of the fins.
The new weapon is now expected to be ready for initial deployment by August 2020, according to the GAO.
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