Air Force Buys First 144 Small Diameter Bombs

SDB IIThe Air Force has moved into production of its Small Diameter Bomb II that can pinpoint targets from long distances, destroy stationary or moving targets and change course in flight using a two-way data link, service officials said.

“Using its dual-band weapon data link, it can change targets in flight and can be controlled by a third party,” Col. Kevin Hickman, SDB II Program Manager, told Military.com in a written statement.

The Air Force awarded a $30.9 million deal this past June to Raytheon for an initial increment of 144 bombs.

The potential value of the entire SDB II production run is expected to be $2.792 billion for 17,000 SDB II weapons – 12,000 for the Air Force and 5,000 for the Navy, Air Force officials told Military.com

“These weapons are expected to be procured through 2025,” Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said in a written statement.

The move toward formal production and operational status for the weapon comes on the heels of recent successful tests of the SDB II.

Several months ago, an Air Force F-15 Eagle destroyed a moving surrogate-model T-72 tank during a live-fire test of the new Small Diameter Bomb II at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., service leaders 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 seeker allows the weapon to attack stationary and moving targets at distances greater than 40 nautical miles on land and at sea, Raytheon officials said.

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.

Imagining 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 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, Raytheon officials 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.

Plasma Jets

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, a Raytheon official 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, a Raytheon official added.

Prior to the award of this contract, 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.
  • highguard

    Thanks John!! $2.8B on a weapon that lacks survivability on the modern battlefield. They’ll need to spend $5B for 24,000 instead of 12,000 (similar to JDAM) since SDB-II is a subsonic glide weapon that will not survive enemy MRAD, SHORAD and CIWS/C-RAM defending the targets. Lots of time and defenses to pick off all (6) six dropped from the same 5th Gen A/C that will have to risk its priceless remaining cargo (the pilot) and its $85M skin to strafe the target when the Msn Cmdr realizes that it is the only way to take it out. USAF was told this but the bureaucracy, influenced by SASC, is too _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ to put two and two together and get it right. I’m so sick and tired of this _ _ _ _!!

    • derf

      You think high-power shortwave radars are going to survive on that same battlefield to target these weapons? It’ll take some VERY high-power radars to be able to get a targeting fix on something smaller than a human
      .
      You think that they’ll be able to shoot down 12,000 incoming bombs? Exactly how many SAMs do you think any opponent has? MANPADS can’t target something this small, and even Russia only has a few thousand SAMs, even if you include legacy S-200 crap.

      CWIS is about the only system that might actually work, and those are few and far between.

      Then, why the hell do you think anyone would be using a small, lightweight, low power bomb against a heavily defended target covered with multiple SAM brigades and emplaced CWIS systems? Especially just one plane’s worth? No, this is something designed to take out buildings, small bunkers, technical, tanks or other armored vehicles, small or medium ships, while minimizing collateral damage. It isn’t supposed to let one plane take out the entire Moscow Military District.

      Finally, those SAMs cost millions each - to shoot down a 50kg warhead bomb that only costs $150,000?

      • @GreensboroVet

        Thanks Derf. Some people just don’t get it. hey Derf, have you seen this?_ _https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlZn3l7iFzg__

        Wish I had this when I was shooting Arty.

      • blight_jklasdf

        If they put a rocket assist on the SDB’s to make them ER-SDB’s, then…

        • blight_asdf

          Well, SDB2-ER. Unsure if it would still fit in internal bay of F-35.

        • e1sid

          It’s called Brimstone….

    • Pat

      Our enemies don’t have C-Rams.

    • shelory

      i think you have no idea about land based CIWS/C-RAMS systems, as of now only the US and Israel have such systems in use and they have limited range. and even if other countries do have such systems they wont be able to take out more then 1-2 bombs at a time and they wont have enough to defend enough of their infrastructure.

    • Infin11

      mixon tried this. Obviously He wasn’t successful. You sound like a huge dik-fore talking mumbo jumbo

    • James B.

      The vast majority of targets we would be shooting at don’t have dedicated air defense good enough to shoot down small glide bombs, and the ones that do are largely firing expensive SAMs. The few that do have air defense, we will be shooting HARM at anyway.

  • Papa

    “…it can change targets in flight and can be controlled by a third party…”
    I hope it cannot be controller by the opposing party.

    • nmi

      ragheads? really?

  • jjstraight

    That is a really expensive bomb for such a small payload. We need to make the sensor module on the bomb detach at the last moment and fly back to the plane.

    How many of these are going to be used to kill 2 or 3 guys in robes and sandals carrying 40 year old AKs

    • Curt

      Probably not many, a LGB or LSDBI would be a better choice, but why not use a APKWS instead.

    • shelory

      you are funny! why don’t you make the bomb explode, rebuild itself and FedEx itself back to the US…

    • shon

      The US has cheaper munitions for COIN envirments. The tri-head seaker is for high threat enviorments.

    • Guest

      One.

  • Dfens

    What, it’s going into production? Clearly this program needs to be cancelled because it sucks and the next program will be better. Let’s not build any of these. What we have is good enough and will be for forever and ever. In fact, I’ve read that these bombs will actually target and kill our own troops in most cases. This is a travesty an all the people who think it should be built are working for the defense contractor and they suck.

    • DawgNayshun

      Moronic comment.

      • IHTFP

        Or sarcastic comment.

        • DawgNayshun

          Any decent joke needs a punchline.

          • Dfens

            The punch line is the sound of all that money going into Lockheed’s bank account. They laugh their asses off at how stupid you idiot taxpayers are everytime they hear that sound.

          • Dfens

            Oh, sorry, in this case it’s actually Raytheon.

          • DawgNayshun

            I wont say Raytheon is actually losing money on the SDB II at this point; but they are making lot less margins than is typical on the early LRIP. They are banking on International sales to make the profit.

  • IHTFP

    “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.”

    Now that’s a smart bomb.

  • Bernard

    That trimode seeker stuff is awesome. It must be nearly jam proof.

  • Charles

    I wonder which variant of the JSF they tested it on? There was at least one version of the JSF (the “B” variant) where this version of the SDB won’t fit into the internal bombay.

    It would be kind of ironic if the first version of the JSF (F-35B) couldn’t carry SDB-II’s internally, considering thats the first one thats supposed to reach IOC this year…

    • shelory

      it is already known that the F-35 wont be using the SDB II for a long time and especially the F-35 B

    • Mark

      The B’s weapon bay will be modified so it will fit. Change needs a hose moved and one other item. Then all the plane’s SDB-2’s will fit.

      • DawgNayshun

        A mod is already in the works.

        • Morgrid

          IIRC they were holding off on the mod until the SBDII was finalized so they wouldn’t have to go back and redesign it again.

  • flying ducthman

    WOW, that ‘only’ $208,000 per bomb. Then we can put them on a F-35 that costs only $ 300,000,000 each and go kill a ISIS leader in a mud hut in a Islamic state. Is that economy of scale or what? Probably wouldn’t cost us more than $500,000,000,000,000 to take out the entire ISIS leadership. Or, we could just nuke the whole area.

    • blight_

      I don’t think we have enough martyrs on our side that we could give an AKM and send at the enemy…

    • shelory

      war is expensive! if you want they US can go back to using dumb bombs to try to take out targets, and we all know how effective that was in Vietnam… there is no other way to hit an enemy other than put feet on the ground or use guided munitions, you decide what you are willing to do. believe me it will be a lot cheaper to send UAVs with SDBs then send ground troops.

      • majr0d

        “there is no other way to hit an enemy other than put feet on the ground or use guided munitions,”

        Our target acquisition against ISIS is doing wonders. Stopping them in their tracks… (NOT)

    • shon

      The US has cheaper munitions for COIN environments. The tri-head seeker is for high threat environments.

  • pilum57

    Anyone care to define what “…its ability to track and hit moving targets from long distances.” is? Because the only range estimate I see is ~40NM which if we are planing on using this against a peer or near peer adversary is way to short legged for modern contested airspace. The comment regarding rocket assisted ER might help but if it can’t get over the ~100NM range I’m not sure this is the best investment money can buy.

    • IHTFP

      Means longer distance than Hellfire or guided bombs like JDAM and Paveway. For ranges longer than 100 miles, there’s the SLAM-ER air-launched cruise missile, which weighs 1500 lbs and costs $500K. Pick the right weapon for the mission.

      • blight_

        Glide relies on the bomb having a maximally high glide ratio and the aircraft being as high as possible to assure excellent range. Tactics such as using a zoom climb to launch a SDB2 may increase range as well, but long range with a glide weapon also suggests long time-to-target.

        Very few weapons in the arsenal are meant to be used on camels or individual low-value targets. JDAM and Paveway are kit add-ons to the legacy series of bombs, which cannot be aerodynamically optimized any more, and perhaps are also limited in terms of glide kits that can be added on after the fact.

        Once the arsenal of legacy Mk. 82 et al bombs is exhausted, we will probably go to using glide-PGM’s designed from the start.

  • Robbie

    You guys can’t stand to hear good news, can you? What a bunch of nonstop whiners….

    • changey

      Paid trolls more than likely. Question is, who’s paying them?

      • displacedjim

        Exactly!!!

    • Joe Sovereign

      Some of us are not excited about another $3 billion thrown on the pyre of perpetual war while our nation is bankrupt, regardless of how impressive the marketing material on new features are.

      • crackedlenses

        Thomas Jefferson once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

        Looking at the world today, he probably should have said: “The price of peace is eternal war.”

        • Joe Sovereign

          “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”

          I think your mindset is more George Orwell than Thomas Jefferson.

  • JR Jansen

    “Imagining infrared guidance allows the weapon to track and hone in on heat signatures such as the temperature of an enemy vehicle.”
    FYI, the proper phrase is, “HOME in,” (as in HOMING pigeon or HOMING beacon) not “HONE in.”
    You HONE (sharpen) a knife or HONE your skills. “HONE” does NOT mean “to find one’s way.”

    • Papacee

      intransitive verb
      : to move toward or focus attention on an objective

      • IHTFP

        It really does appear to be an eggcorn.

        From your source, Merriam Webster:
        “Usage Discussion of HONE IN
        The few commentators who have noticed hone in consider it to be a mistake for home in. It may have arisen from home in by the weakening of the m sound to n or may perhaps simply be due to the influence of hone. Though it seems to have established itself in American English (and mention in a British usage book suggests it is used in British English too), your use of it especially in writing is likely to be called a mistake. Home in or in figurative use zero in does nicely.”

    • IHTFP

      Also misspelled “Imaging” as “Imagining.”

  • oblatt23

    The SDBII is already obsolete on the modern battlefield. Its a perfect complement to the F-35.

    The funniest part are all the old capabilities going back decades that are wheeled out as a new miracle. One can only assume that the people cheering it on where born yesterday.

    • DawgNayshun

      We are dropping dozens of JDAMS and SDB1s daily. I assume you have evidence to back up your statement that the SDB2 is obsolete. I have evidence that says the warfighter is begging this to get to IOC so they can start using it.

  • Lightingguy

    Amazing. 36 posts and nobody blamed Obama !

    • Morgrid

      Thanks Obama!

  • Old Platoon Sergeant

    To save my unit I would call an arc light or battleship on a sniper. The dude in the mud sez just shoot somewhere among us. One of us needs relief.

  • virgil cuttaway

    i know they are different weapons but what can this do that Brimstone cant? Really nothing.

    • Guest

      Brimstone max range - 12 miles.
      SDB II max range - greater than 40 miles with a subsonic drop. With a supersonic drop it could approach 100 miles.

    • displacedjim

      Also SDB II could be dropped while flying away from the target, and the weapon will turn back to it. Fuzing options allow for penetration of hardened targets like shelters and bunkers, and airbursts. Also has a 105lb warhead rather than a 20lb warhead.

  • virgil cuttaway

    The Brimstone II will have a 37+ mile range.

  • gkm

    $164,000 apiece.the taliban uses cheap ak.s, mortars and ied,s. every body knows they will take over afghanistan. they will bankrupt the defense department. good strategy.

  • max1mos111

    A few years back, the millimeter wave technology was a myth. Oh, how technology has evolved so rapidly.
    111