The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has awarded Raytheon Missiles & Defense a $250 million contract modification, putting the contract’s total value at $700 million. The contract encompasses “design, development, integration, test and production engineering for changes to the SDB II GBU-53/B technical and production baseline.”
The StormBreaker was tested last month by four F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets from the 391st Fighter Squadron of the 36th Fighter Wing, which used the weapon to hit four moving ground vehicles at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). The weapon has so far only been approved for operational use on the F-15, but, according to Raytheon, the favorable test results will lead to its use on other platforms including the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighter. Alison Howlett, the StormBreaker program’s director at Raytheon Missiles and Defense, hailed the test’s results. “By stress-testing the weapon in an operational environment, we are even more confident in the weapon’s ability to strike targets in difficult conditions,” Howlett said. All F-35 variants are expected to receive the StormBreaker upgrade by 2023.
The test at the UTTR was followed by news in late November that a U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B carried out the service’s first drop test of the StormBreaker weapon. The test also reportedly evaluated StormBreaker’s networking and data link capabilities with a secondary aircraft, the F/A-18F Super Hornet. As explained in a previous Raytheon press release, the weapon’s advanced networking capabilities allow it to be launched by one platform and subsequently controlled by another.
The GBU-53/B StormBreaker is an air-launched, precision-guided glide bomb that can identify, track, and strike stationary or moving targets at standoff ranges in all-weather conditions. Intended for the Air Force as well as the Navy, the StormBreaker is planned to be compatible with the F-15E, F/A-18E, F-16C/D, and F-35A, and F-35B. The weapon features a multi-mode seeker with three distinct operating modes, intended to “provide maximum operational flexibility” and to mitigate the effectiveness of countermeasures: millimetre-wave (MMW) radar, uncooled imaging infrared (IIR), and semi-active laser sensor. “The multi-effects warhead really separates this air-to-surface weapon from its predecessor and other munitions in its class,” said Howlett.
The bomb weighs upwards of 200 pounds with a six-inch diameter; the weapon boasts an operational range of up to 110 km against stationary and 72 km against mobile targets. Despite the weapon’s relatively small size, Raytheon says StormBreaker is powerful enough to defeat heavily armored vehicles. “Warheads, equipped with shape charge jets, fragmentation, and blast-charge effects, and an option for a delayed smart fuze, are powerful enough to defeat tanks.”
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.