New Air Force Weapon Makes Combat Debut in Iraq
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Don Branum
Special to American Forces Press Service
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq, Aug. 28, 2008 Coalition air forces in Iraq unleashed a new precision-guided weapon against enemy forces Aug. 12 when two F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots with the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron here executed the first combat employment of a GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition against a moving enemy vehicle in Diyala province.
Air Force Staff Sgts. Michael Jackson (left) and Anthony Bagen align a 500-pound GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition before connecting it to an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Aug. 14, 2008. F-16 pilots with the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron used the new weapon for the first time in combat Aug. 12 against a moving enemy vehicle in Diyala province to support a combined Iraqi army and U.S. Marine Corps operation. Bagen and Jackson are deployed from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The GBU-54 is the Air Force's newest 500-pound precision weapon, equipped with a targeting system that uses a combination of GPS and laser guidance to accurately engage and destroy moving targets.
"This employment first represents a great step in our Air Force's ability to deliver precise effects across the spectrum of combat," Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, U.S. Air Forces Central commander, said. "The first combat employment of this weapon is the validation of the exacting hard work of an entire team of professionals who developed, tested and fielded this weapon on an extremely short timeline, based on an urgent needs request we established in the combat zone."
When the GBU-54 was identified as an urgent operational need in early 2007, the Air Force completed its development and testing cycle in less than 17 months, fielding it aboard 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing aircraft in May.
"We have consistently used precision-guided weapons to engage stationary threats with superb combat effects," Air Force Brig. Gen. Brian T. Bishop, 332nd AEW commander, said. "This weapon allows our combat pilots to engage a broad range of moving targets with dramatically increased capabilities, and it increases our ability to strike the enemy throughout a much, much broader engagement envelope."
Teamwork in all aspects, from development to employment, was crucial, North said.
"From the experts in our Air Force Materiel Command who shaped our requirements, then developed, tested and fielded the weapon, to our aircraft maintainers, our munitions airmen, and weapons loaders and everyone in between, they made the operational employment of this weapon possible,” North said.
On Aug. 12, the joint terminal attack controller’s team worked with the ground unit commander to ensure all criteria were met for the weapon’s first combat delivery, the general said. “And finally, our F-16 pilot accurately and precisely delivered and guided the weapon to desired weapons effects, the disabling and destruction of an enemy vehicle and personnel," he added.
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Don Branum serves in the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs Office.)