Small Diameter Bomb II Completes Live Fire Test Destroying T-72 Tank

SDB IIAir Force F-15 Eagle recently destroyed a moving -model T-72 tank during a live-fire test of the Small Diameter Bomb II at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., service leaders said.

“Just this month we had a successful live fire mission. It was an F-15E that targeted a moving T-72 tank surrogate. We’re still analyzing the data to get the details of it but the visual indicated it was a direct hit,” Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy for Air Force acquisition, told Military.com in an interview.

The test earlier this month was the final live fire mission required for the developmental weapons program to move toward what’s called a “Milestone C” full rate production decision, she added.

Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall is expected to approve full-rate production of the weapon by May of this year — a move which would clear the path for large-scale manufacturing and delivery of the Small Diameter Bomb II, or SDB II, later this year. 

Ultimately, the Air Force plans to acquire 12,000 SDB II weapons — which will enter service by 2017, service officials said.

“This was the graduation exercise. This is what the warfighter is going to drop on the bad guys. It is the end to end test. The warhead performed as expected and we ended up putting steel on target which is what the goal is,” Jeff White, senior manager, business development, Raytheon, told Military.com.

White explained that the model tank was moving at tactically relevant battle speeds when it was destroyed by the SDB II during the live-fire test.

“Just because you hit a target that does not mean you achieved the right kill metrics. That is what the Air Force is doing right now, analyzing the target to make sure the target destruction was at the right level for the test,” White added.

Depending upon the test outcome, there can be catastrophic kill tests or mobility kills designed only to stop a target from moving, he explained.

“Each test has its own metrics,” White said.

The SDB II is a new air-dropped bomb that can pinpoint targets from long distances, destroy stationary or moving targets and change course in flight using a two-way data link, Raytheon and Air Force officials said.

The Small Diameter Bomb II represents a technological departure from previously fielded precision-guided air-dropped weapons because of its ability to track and hit moving targets from long distances.

Most of the testing of the SBD II thus far has been on an Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter jet, however the weapon has also been fitted and tested on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Engineers are also working on plans to integrate the bomb onto the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-16 as well, Raytheon officials said.

GPS and laser-guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions have been around for decades, however, they have primarily been designed for use against fixed or stationary targets.

A key part of the SDB II is a technology called a “tri-mode” seeker — a guidance system which can direct the weapon using millimeter wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared guidance and semi-active laser technology.

“The really transformational thing about this product is the fact that our seeker, our tri-mode seeker, allows us to prosecute both those moving and stationary targets from standoff distances to exceed 40 nautical miles both on land and at sea,” Mike Jarrett, vice president, air warfare systems, Raytheon, said last summer at the Farnborough Air Show, London.

A tri-mode seeker provides a range of guidance and targeting options typically not used together in one system. Millimeter wave radar gives the weapon an ability to navigate through adverse weather, conditions in which other guidance systems might encounter problems reaching or pinpointing targets.

Imaging infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle. With semi-active laser technology, the weapon can be guided to an exact point using a laser designator or laser illuminator coming from the air or the ground.

Also, the SBD II brings a new ability to track targets in flight through use of a two-way Link 16 and UHF data link, Raytheon officials said.

“The millimeter wave radar turns on first. Then the data link gives it a cue and tells the seeker where to open up and look. Then it turns on its IR (infrared) which uses heat seeking technology,” White said.

The SBD II 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, White explained.

If weapons are kept in an internal weapons bay and not rested on an external weapons pod, then an aircraft can succeed in retaining its stealth properties because the shapes or contours of the weapons will not be visible to enemy radar.

About 105 pound of the SDB II is an explosive warhead which encompasses a “blast-frag” capability and a “plasma-jet” technology designed to pierce enemy armor, White explained.

The SDB II 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, White added.

The Pentagon and Raytheon have already invested more than $700 million into SBD II development, Raytheon officials said.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@military.com

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Ray

    I would of enjoyed seeing what the cost breakdown is of these.

  • Lance

    Another precision guided bomb…. YAWN Good to see another new bomb. Though almost anything explosive wish can kill a T-72, the tank is a death trap!

  • Godzilla

    I hope they don’t miss a lot. You can buy a T-72 for the price of 4 of these bombs. They cost a quarter of a million each.

  • TheCanuck

    At least the US is getting practice destroying T-72s because this might come useful.

  • Highguard

    Congrats to Raytheon, LMCO, ACC, AFMC and HAF for doubling the relevancy of the F-35A/B/C and bringing to the AF and Navy Tri-Mode Seeker capability which the Army had been attempting to do with JAGM. Because of the ability to deploy an SDB II at altitude and Mach 1.5, this does become a medium-range stand-off weapon (although not quite BVR). Because of its ability to strike tanks (or mobile strike vehicles) in tactical formation, it provides 4 times the ability we previously had for those types of targets and a significant improvement to employment platform survivability. However, there are tradeoffs to be considered. 1) Although the weapons improve survivability of the platform, multiple weapons will have to be employed in salvos against the same Tgt on a modern battlefield due to survivability limitations of their own. 2) They will not replace the asymmetrical capability provided by the CBU-105 and its BLU-108 W/Hs which have, from the same hardpoint, a 40 to 1 kill ratio for tanks in a column or garrison. Fortunately, USAF will retain a certain amount of the CBUs but should keep all in tactical excess for a Major Theater War (MTW) scenario. SDB IIs may be needed for other more important Tgts.

  • d. kellogg

    …So it destroyed a “T-72 SURROGATE”, not exactly an actual T-72?
    “It was an F-15E that targeted a moving T-72 tank surrogate.”

    Is “SURROGATE” the new Russian name for the latest iteration of T-72 they’re offering on the market?

  • displacedjim

    The comments here are precious. If it can hit one tank, it can hit ANY tank. If it can hit any tank, it will kill that tank, ANY tank.

  • Dave Barnes

    How did they find a crew for this tank surrogate?
    Welcome to USA, glad you could join us from [something]stan. We have great job for you.

  • oblatt22

    There is widespread recognition amongst the contractors that JDAMs were a big mistake. Effective and cheap they were the sort of weapons the Russians or Chinese would use because they didn’t care about profits.

    The small diameter bomb is getting back on track. Small expensive and requiring multiple weapons to achieve the same effect they are gong to be a much bigger earner.

    Whether it is hitting treeline or taking out pickup trucks which make up 90% of the missions the main thing is that multiple weapons are needed and each one is gold plated.

    The SDB really is the epitome of the new paradigm: “deliver less and cost more”.

    • William_C1

      Another moronic comment from somebody who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. It may occur to some people here that aircraft don’t have unlimited space to carry ordinance. So for every 1000 lb or 2000 lb JDAM you can carry four SDBs which will be preferable for some missions depending on the targets. Against a lone target (like the T-72 example) a 200 lb SDB II will have the same effect as a 2000 lb JDAM. It will still be blown into scrap.

      If you’re bombing treelines or vehicle parks then use heavier JDAMs, if you need to take out an individual vehicle, mortar pit, MG position, mud hut, etc. SDBs are a better choice. There is a purely GPS/INS guided relative which is the SDB I. That doesn’t have the capability to engage a moving target however.

      Of course you can’t reason with people like Oblat. They’re the first to complain about the price tag and the first to complain about collateral damage if we go the “low cost” route of dropping a whole lot of dumb bombs.

    • Dfens

      Remember the defense contractor’s motto: you can buy better, but you just can’t pay more!

  • omegatalon

    Would have been nice seeing high-speed video of the Small Diameter Bomb striking the T-72 tank and the effects after impact so we can see what destroyed means as well as information whether the A-10 Warthog is equipped to handle the SDB.

  • Franklin

    Although it does have tactical utility, it’s use against any single tank is a joke. We have cruise missiles with submunitions that can take out entire tank formations without scattering the landscape with trash, at a fraction of the cost, and at seriously long range. If we gave a few of them to the Ukraine their Russian armor problem would turn into scrap metal.

  • steve

    It can hit a moving target from up to 40 nautical miles away? That’s damn impressive for a bomb.

  • Stan

    Impress me by getting a mortar round to do that.

  • Mike E

    Put a solid rocket on this and launch it from LCS… Yeah, I know, it would take 5 years and half a billion to make that work.

    • The one armed man

      The brimstone missile would fit that role nicely.

    • d. kellogg

      Those damned little automated admin BS deletions on this site…

      Wasn’t very long ago that SDB was suggested to be boosted aloft by an MLRS rocket motor section, then glide out to a target at considerable range.
      It would offer some very favorable capabilities with that trimode seeker.
      Land launched, sea launched, even air launched for an even greater range advantage…
      I would guess, however, it would be seen as too logical and more cost friendly than a key naval project, the AGS 155 and its LRLAPs.

    • The one armed man

      Meant Spear 3 not brimstone.

  • sw614

    The SDB program while having its share of bumps is proving to be a highly successful one. Having a glide weapon with good range, that many different acft can carry, and is also a precision weapon is a terrific tool to have in the tool box. The SDB I has demonstrated the ability to penetrate several feet of earth and concrete after a flight of over 30NM. The SDB II is expanding on those capabilities, widening the engagement and target type envelopes.

    This is not some gee whiz toy as some would refer to it, but a weapon that can allow many more targets to be engaged by fewer acft in one sortie.

  • Mark

    So the F-35 will need another bay modification to fit the SDB II inside, so it will carry 8 internally.

    • The one armed man

      Only the B model.

  • Dfens

    This is what we really need, more airplane, less bomb.

  • GI dude

    How many of these can we put on a C-130?

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    If there’s one weapon that might make the F-35 viable in the near term as a close-support aircraft, the SDB II is it. Even if the F-35’s cockpit visibility and speed on approach permit the pilot to acquire and engage a target via his eyeballs with as much facility as a colleague in an A-10 (I have my doubts) the idea of operating a $90 million airframe within range of rifle fire, 14.5 and 23 mm AA, and MANPADS (never mind anything bigger) leaves me cold. If the F-35 is going to supplant the A-10 or any other current platform, it’s through the use of sensor fusion, the DAS (yes, I know it’s problematic) and smart standoff weapons, of which the SDB II is probably the most important for years to come. We’re committed far, far past the point of no return to the F-35 as the future of close air support, like it or not. Successful tests like this are encouraging. Let’s not fuss tabout the unit price, it will fall because this weapon is likely to be a best-seller. (There will be SDB II, III,IV and probably XV before we’re done.)

    The AH-64E Block III is supposed to be able to control a UAV. It’s reasonable to infer that the UAVs in question will locate and designate targets; it’s reasonable to expect the F-35 to be able to do that, too.

    Apropos of the unit cost (and I am aware you could just as soon say $200 million @, as well as Lockheed’s preferred $90 million) It won’t take many losses from ground fire to persuade the services to stop using it to strafe targets, yank the gun, and spend the weight, volume and electrical power on something else. ECM? ESSM? More detailed multispectral systems for locating targets? Lasers? Death rays? Just a WAG.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Maverick’s available with a large warhead for bunkers and for antishipping use. Does anyone know if a similar warhead is being developed for the SBD II?

  • Kostas

    The MMW radar will allow the detection of the incoming bomb by a tank equipped with RWR (does not currently exist but can easily be done). The gliding weapon is a SLOW weapon that could be countered by an active protection system.

    Therefore I am skeptical on whether this weapon would be able to destroy tanks of the near future

  • oblatt22

    HEAT armor piercing ability is proportional to its diameter. So you can imagine how effective the “small diameter” bomb is

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    The size of the jet from a warhead this big might permit detonation outside the range of an active protection system. In the alternative, why not a warhead that produces an explosively formed penetrator, a/k/a a self-forging projectile?

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    I can’t argue that point - if it isn’t on station when the request is made, or within 90 seconds or so of delivering ordinance, it’s probably going to be too late. …. but, for better or worse, this is the platform that will define CAS for the next 25 years. A trajectory that provides a near right-angle to the topside of a tank might improve performance of the jet, or an EFP, against armor. Am I grasping at straws? Perhaps so.

    I don’t believe for an instant that there will be money for a different, dedicated CAS platform within my lifetime, with the possible - but - unlikely emergence of a UAV out of the black budget.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    I believe the APKWS, which is cheap enough to be used in salvos against tanks if needed to saturate an APS, is edging into service now. BUT I don’t know if that weapon can be carried internally, and lock on after launch.

  • Cisa 93

    anything to make the F-35 relevant…..the A-10 was made for the Warsaw Pact (fomermly known as….) and the onslaught of tanks. Russia still has thousands of Soviet Era tanks and many are being upgraded…..we dubbed the A-10 the Russian Tank opener in Desert Storm, that’s what is needed in the FSU countries just incase, Putin decides to push his luck a bit more….

  • pzkwmkv

    How hard would it be to integrate the engine from the MALD or a similar one to the SDB 2 and give it some real range?