1st Aircraft In US Navy – F/A-18 Super Hornets To Get StormBreaker SDB II That Can Hit Moving Targets In Harsh Weather Conditions

Following the declaration of Early Operational Capability (EOC) in October this year, the US Navy is gearing up to equip its carrier-capable premier fighter jet, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, with the cutting-edge Small Diameter Bomb Increment II (SDB-II) precision-strike weapon system. 

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The upcoming introduction of SDB-II marks a crucial development for the Navy, as the F/A-18E/F becomes the first platform within its fleet to carry this highly sophisticated munition, according to the US Navy.  

Designed to address targets in dynamic scenarios and adverse weather conditions, SDB-II is capable of engaging both moving and fixed targets with unparalleled precision.

Also known as the Ground Bomb Unit-53B (GBU-53B) “StormBreaker,” SDB-II boasts a tri-mode seeker system, incorporating infrared and millimeter wave radar technologies. 

This advanced seeker enables the bomb to penetrate fog, smoke, and rain, ensuring accurate target acquisition even in the most challenging environments. 

The development and deployment of SDB-II are part of a Joint-Interest program led by the United States Air Force, with the weapon already fielded on Air Force F-15E aircraft.

The Navy is set to field the Small Diameter Bomb Increment II on the F/A-18E/F after declaring Early Operational Capability (EOC) in October. Photo By: U.S. Navy Photo

In addition to the F/A-18E/F, the SDB-II is slated for compatibility and deployment on other key platforms, including the F-16C/D and F-35 aircraft. 

Overseeing the Navy’s component of the SDB-II program is the Precision Strike Weapons Program Office, which is dedicated to providing Naval Aviation with state-of-the-art precision strike solutions. 

According to Tyler Alt, Navy SDB-II program manager, the joint efforts between the Navy, Air Force, test community, and fleet stakeholders have been instrumental in expediting the fielding of this game-changing weapon system.

Alt stated, “This weapon will give our warfighters a much-needed capability and provide the basis for future network-enabled weapons.” Looking ahead, the Navy anticipates achieving Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for SDB-II in 2024, following the completion of two additional operational test events.

GBU-53/B StormBreaker 

The StormBreaker GBU-53/B is manufactured by US Defense company Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona. It is a complex, precise glide munition for air-to-ground operations. 

One of the key features of the SDB-II is its two-way datalink communications capability, allowing the weapon to receive updated target coordinates mid-flight. This feature facilitates real-time adjustments to mission objectives and provides greater flexibility and effectiveness in dynamic operational scenarios. 

Further, the SDB-II’s network-enabled capabilities allow seamless coordination between airborne or ground controllers, which enhances overall situational awareness and mission coordination.

The US Air Force achieved Initial Operating Capability (IOC) with the SDB-II on the Strike Eagle in September 2022, following a memorandum signed in 2020 allowing all USAF Strike Eagle wings to train with the weapon.

Operational testing of StormBreaker on the Super Hornet is currently underway, and plans to declare IOC on the aircraft this year are in place. At the heart of StormBreaker’s capabilities lies its tri-mode seeker, which provides unparalleled vision and precision.

Stormbreaker mockup at Dubai Air Show 2019. Wikipedia

This advanced technology enables the weapon to identify and engage threats with unparalleled accuracy, ensuring optimal outcomes in high-stakes scenarios.

StormBreaker’s superiority, however, extends beyond precision; it boasts a multi-effects warhead that maximizes lethality against a diverse range of targets. Incorporating blast, fragmentation, and shaped charge modes, the weapon ensures decisive results with every strike, effectively neutralizing threats on the battlefield.

Its configuration permits adaptable post-release control, enabling precise guidance by either aircrew or ground personnel. Utilizing an advanced data link infrastructure, operators can transmit real-time target updates during flight, refining engagement tactics on the fly. 

This seamless interaction between the weapon and its controllers heightens operational efficiency and reduces unintended harm.

Raytheon sees the StormBreaker as an “ultimate air dominance weapon,” ready to fulfill the requirements of both the US and its allies. Engineered to complement various platforms, the StormBreaker’s compact design optimizes payload capacity, bolstering the aircraft’s combat prowess.

The StormBreaker is also tailored to synergize effectively with the F-35, with expectations that wherever the F-35 is deployed internationally, the StormBreaker smart weapon will likely accompany it. 

Also, as networking becomes increasingly integral to munitions deployment, the US military is particularly interested in exploiting its benefits for air-launched ordnance. This includes dynamic retargeting, utilizing offboard sensors for continuous targeting during flight, and employing swarm tactics to improve effectiveness and survivability.

In light of the growing significance of networking technology in the utilization of munitions, the StormBreaker is anticipated to have a substantial impact on the modern battlefield where it could yield crucial results.