If an advancing group of enemy tanks, infantry carriers and artillery systems used a heavy desert sandstorm to conceal their attack, they might be nearly invisible to electro-optical surveillance cameras, certain satellite sensors and laser spotting. Perhaps the mechanized column of armored vehicles comes to a stop once in range of attack and turns off their engines to reduce any heat signature, thereby evading infrared targeting? Perhaps they are accompanied by long-range precision artillery or even close-air support, making any kind of close-in counterattack far too damaging or at least, less likely to result in successful destruction of the enemy force.
How could the enemy force be attacked? Could they be stopped without encountering huge amounts of casualties, risks and uncertain prospects for success? This is a scenario that Pentagon weapons developers have been working on for years.
Now, the Air Force could attack with a new, long-range air dropped precision-guided weapon able to shift course toward moving targets at stand-off ranges up to forty miles. The Air Force multi-mode Stormbreaker is now operational on F-15E jet fighters as a first step toward arming F/A-18s and F-35.
The Air Force and Raytheon have announced that the Stormbreaker multi-mode weapon is ready for war on an F-15E.
Operational status for the Stormbreaker follows years of development, which have specifically included live-fire exercises with a range of platforms, to include F-15Es. Several years ago, an Air Force F-15 Eagle destroyed a moving surrogate-model T-72 tank during a live-fire test of the new Stormbreaker at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The surrogate T-72 tank was moving at tactically relevant battle speeds when it was destroyed by the Stormbreaker during the test.
The weapon is known to incorporate a handful of innovations expected to introduce new tactical dimensions to combat such as increased stand-off attack, multi-mode targeting and “network enabled” warfare. The most often cited innovation woven into the Stormbreaker, previously called the Stormbreaker, is its “tri-mode” seeker, a small form-factor integration of three different kinds of precision-guidance technology woven into a single weapon. Those three guidance technologies are millimeter wave guidance, infrared sensing and semi-active laser targeting.
Stormbreaker is engineered to weigh only 208 pounds, a lighter weight than most other air dropped bombs, so that eight of them can fit on the inside of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. StormBreaker’s small size also lets fewer aircraft address the same number of targets compared to larger weapons that require multiple jets. It can also fly more than forty miles to strike mobile targets, reducing the amount of time that aircrews spend operating in hostile, high-threat areas.
About 105 pounds of the Stormbreaker is an explosive warhead which encompasses a “blast-frag” capability and a “shape-jet” technology designed to pierce enemy armor, Raytheon weapons developers explained. The Stormbreaker also has the ability to classify targets, meaning it could for example be programmed to hit only tanks in a convoy as opposed to other moving vehicles. The weapon can classify tanks, boats or wheeled targets.
While the Air Force currently uses a laser-guided bomb called the GBU-54 able to destroy moving targets, the Stormbreaker can do this at longer ranges and in all kinds of weather conditions. In addition, the Stormbreaker is built with a two-way, dual-band, LINK 16 and UHF data link which enables it to adjust to different target locations while in flight.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.