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Small Diameter Bomb Provides Big Capabilities

The bomb’s small size increases the number of weapons an aircraft can carry,
therefore raising the amount of targets it can kill in one sortie.

By Staff Sgt. Ryan Hansen / Air Armament Center Public Affairs

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., March 24, 2006 – There's an old saying that goes, "good things come in small packages."

That saying rings true for the warfighter when looking at the capabilities of the small diameter bomb, the Air Force's newest precision guided munition.

At just 5.9 feet long and 285 pounds, the bomb’s small size increases the number of weapons an aircraft can carry, therefore raising the amount of targets it can kill in one sortie.

Because of its size and precision accuracy, it also reduces collateral, or unintended, damage in the target vicinity.

"In the urban conflict we're currently engaged in, the warfighter struggles at times to find a weapon that gives them a desired effect on a target without an excessive effect, so the small diameter bomb will be a nice addition."

U.S. Air Force Col. Richard Justice

Complementing the weapon is a smart miniature munitions carriage system. This system can carry four small diameter bombs, enabling an aircraft to quadruple its load out.

The carriage system functions similar to an aircraft stores management system by communicating with and controlling up to four weapons.

A small diameter bomb can be used in adverse weather and has a standoff range of more than 60 nautical miles.

Once released, the weapon uses its inertial navigation and an anti-jam Global Positioning System to fly to the target.  Its guidance is further augmented by a differential GPS system, which provides corrections to enhance accuracy.

As the Air Force chief of staff's number one weapon priority, the small diameter bomb is the fastest major acquisition program in Eglin history. The weapon is scheduled to be in the hands of the warfighter for the first time in September 2006.

A weapon like the small diameter bomb is not created overnight. It was actually born as the small smart bomb through an advanced technology demonstration at Eglin's Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate.

There, a team of engineers wanted to demonstrate weapon technologies that increased aircraft loadout and allowed multiple targets to be attacked in a single combat sortie.

"This was done by focusing on the delivery accuracy, controllability and penetration capability of a 250-pound class weapon with approximately 50 pounds of explosive," said Ken Lockwood, director of the Small Diameter Bomb I Squadron, who was part of the demonstration team at the lab. "The success of the program emphasized the fact that accuracy and load out were sufficient to overcome the warhead size constraints."

The group also wanted to explore increased standoff capability of the weapon.

But they had to make sure they maintained the bomb's effectiveness and penetration capability while doing this.

"The objectives were to develop a low-cost wing kit that could extend the range of this weapon to greater than 40 nautical miles," Lockwood said. "At the conclusion of this program, increased load out, supersonic carriage and release, standoff, and weapon effectiveness had all been demonstrated."

Requirements set for the small smart bomb became small diameter bomb's foundation. The program was transitioned over to the Air Armament Center for further development and fielding.

Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff at the time, liked the new small diameter bomb so much that he wanted it fielded and ready for the warfighter by the fourth quarter of fiscal 2006.

From their request for proposal, the new small diameter bomb program office picked two contractors to design and test their prototype weapon system. They would then select one of them to produce the bomb after completing the component advanced development phase.

"Schedule was number one from the beginning," said Richard Walley, deputy director of the Miniature Munitions Systems Group. "Therefore, a lot of emphasis during the component advanced development phase was on design maturity so we could go right into a program with minimum changes."

The small diameter bomb team accelerated the acquisition process for the component advanced development phase by using a lot of the same concepts as the Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser program offices.

"The whole point of the competition was to have a higher probability of getting a weapons system that would perform to the requirements and have a price competition for the production options in out years," said Col. Richard Justice, commander of the Miniature Munitions Systems Group. "We used the competition very effectively; and if you look at the production pricing, we're buying it at less than half of the user's requirement."

During the next two years the program office carefully graded and evaluated the two contractor's different designs.

"The competition phase was essentially a fly off because both had weapons that flew," said Cynthia Schurr, director of engineering for Miniature Munitions Systems Group. "From there, we rolled down into one contactor and moved ahead."

Boeing was selected in 2003 to complete the system development and demonstration phase and produce the small diameter bomb.

During its developmental testing program, the small diameter bomb completed 35 out of 37 flight tests successfully. The program office attributed its success to having a good stable design early and keeping focused on the schedule.

See Caption.
A Small Diameter Bomb hits an A-7 parked inside a concrete aircraft shelter during a test at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The bomb is an autonomous, 250-pound class weapon that can be used in adverse weather and has a standoff range of more than 60 nautical miles. Courtesy photos

"The success is really a product of two things," Justice said. "We didn't stretch too far technically, we didn't go out after something that was out of reach, and we hired a good contractor."

In 2005, 19 months after the weapon was awarded to Boeing, it was ready to enter operational testing.

But the weapon had some GPS issues during operational testing. With their eyes still focused on staying on schedule, the small diameter bomb program office pulled together an independent team to review the bomb and find a fix.

"Everyone realized the significance of the weapon and knew they had to find the problem," Justice said. "Our review team included other program offices, staff organizations and members from industry. Within a month-and-a-half, they had identified the highly probable root causes and provided suggested fixes."

Even though the weapon had suffered a setback, it never got off schedule and is now approximately halfway through operational testing.

"We've kept the budget stable, the requirements stable, the leadership stable and we picked the right contractor to do it. As an acquisition community, we're executing under budget and exceeding requirements," Justice said. "We can't have a bigger success in the acquisition world than that."

The weapon is scheduled to complete operational testing in May.

The small diameter bomb will first be integrated on the F-15E and is scheduled to have required assets available in September. This means warfighters will have the weapon in their arsenal and can use it.

"In the urban conflict we're currently engaged in, the warfighter struggles at times to find a weapon that gives them a desired effect on a target without an excessive effect," Justice said, "so the small diameter bomb will be a nice addition."

Up next for the weapon will be integration on the F-22A Raptor. As the Air Force continues to move forward with newer platforms, the small diameter bomb will be right there with them.

"The F-22A is going to be our day one weapon system in the future," Walley said. "Right now it can only carry two, 1,000 pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, but with small diameter bomb it will be able to carry eight. That's a four-fold increase and will improve the effectiveness of the aircraft in the early hours of a conflict."

Small diameter bomb workers continue to keep their eye on the schedule.

"The acquisition community at large is looking forward to getting small diameter bomb out there on schedule," Justice said. "This program can be viewed as a trial of the acquisition process. It kicked off in a period of tension in the (acquisition) community when we weren't meeting Air Force expectations. Eglin leadership responded by structuring a high confidence program and ensured stable requirements, leadership and funding. The result, small diameter bomb is on schedule, under budget and meeting requirements. It shows we know how to do business right."

While the warfighter is waiting to get the baseline small diameter bomb in the inventory, the program office is looking ahead to making the weapon even more valuable. Upgrades to the weapon include focused lethality munition, which would further reduce a small diameter bomb's collateral damage.

"We're replacing the steel casing, which has a fragmentation effect of 2,000 feet or more, with a composite casing and new explosive fill that will minimize that significantly," Walley said. "It basically provides a more localized kill mechanism."

Like the weapon itself, this new upgrade is also being pushed hard by Air Force leadership. However, this new warhead will not be a part of every small diameter bomb off the assembly line.

"We're not going to replace all the steel warheads with this new casing," Justice said. "It will just be a variant."

The Air Force plans to purchase 24,000 small diameter bombs through 2017 at less than $30,000 a weapon. With the weapon on the verge of being handed over to the warfighter, it has set the bar high for other acquisition programs to follow.
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Nov. 21, 2014
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