The fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II will have a major weapons upgrade in the near future and will be equipped with ‘StormBreaker’ glide bomb that was successfully tested recently.
Notably, the test was carried out by a US Navy F-35B by a naval aviator who used the ‘network-enabled weapon’ as a guided munition, following the same operational procedures as used in a combat scenario. This is an important milestone in integrating the weapon onboard the F-35.
“The weapon’s operational flexibility increases the F-35’s capability and capacity, and it helps limit the time our warfighters spend in harm’s way,” said Alison Howlett, StormBreaker program director at Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
“StormBreaker allows pilots to hit moving targets in adverse weather conditions, which our adversaries have relied on in the past to avoid detection.”
After the release, the fly-out performance of the projectile performance was monitored by a nearby F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft, until the bomb hit its target successfully.
This demonstrated successful network connectivity capability, according to the company. The munition is already integrated and fielded with the US Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle, and the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) will be announced with US Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets after operational tests.
Formerly called “Small Diameter Bomb II” or SDB II, the Stormbreaker is an air-launched glide bomb manufactured by Raytheon Missile Systems for various multirole aircraft in the American inventory, especially the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F-35 fighter jets.
In August, F-15Es dropped four StormBreakers in succession – in less than 30 minutes – as part of tactics development. This was the first time an operational F-15E unit has integrated into StormBreaker testing.
“These tests are critical to paving the way for StormBreaker’s employment by the Combat Air Forces,” said Alison Howlett, program director for StormBreaker at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. “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.”
After successful integration, the F-35 would be able to carry up to 20 StormBreaker munitions (including on external hardpoints), capable of destroying moving targets at ranges as far as 70 kilometers, unaffected by adverse weather conditions.
“The winged munition autonomously detects and classifies moving targets in poor visibility situations caused by darkness, bad weather, smoke or dust kicked up by helicopters,” Raytheon claims.
The munition is guided by a seeker that works in three modes ensuring maximum operational flexibility for its users. A millimeter-wave radar detects and tracks targets through weather, an infrared imaging mode provides enhanced target discrimination, and a semi-active laser enables the weapon to track an airborne laser designator or one on the ground.
The weapon’s compact profile enables one single aircraft to carry a large number of bombs, reducing the need for multiple aircraft while providing equally dominant firepower, with an added advantage of greater standoff ranges. This also provides for better survivability of carrier aircraft.