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Boeing: Laser Small Diameter Bomb Could Fill Gap

Aug. 9, 2012 - 06:28AM   |  
By MARCUS WEISGERBER   |   Comments
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LAS VEGAS – Boeing sees a laser-guided version of its 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) filling a potential gap should U.S. lawmakers slow production of a new, more advanced version of the weapon built by Raytheon.

This comes as a powerful Senate panel has recommended slowing production of the Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II), not due to development or testing issues but to major delays in the fielding of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, one of the two aircraft that will employ the weapon.

Boeing – maker of the baseline SDB – sees this as an opportunity to sell an upgraded version of its baseline weapon, which can strike moving targets.

“Until that [SDB II] comes online … this is a nice gap filler to take care of an important warfighting need,” Debbie Rub, Boeing’s vice president and general manager of missiles and unmanned airborne systems, said in an Aug. 8 interview at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual North America Unmanned Systems conference.

Boeing began testing a laser-guided version of the baseline SDB last year. The company took the same laser it uses on the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and integrated it on the SDB.

The weapon has been successfully employed against targets traveling at 30 miles per hour and 50 miles per hour.

“As we think about the fiscal constraints that we’re under and DoD is under, it’s the right kind of answer where you get an 80 percent solution at a fraction of the cost,” Rub said, noting prior U.S. military investment to support the JDAM and SDB.

In August 2010, the U.S. Air Force selected Raytheon over a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team to build the Small Diameter Bomb II, an upgraded version of the baseline weapon designed to hit moving targets in bad weather from far distances. It will also have a two-way data link that will allow it to be reprogrammed in flight.

The Air Force plans to integrate the SDB II on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-15E Strike Eagle.

The SDB II program has had successes during testing. In a July 20 statement, Raytheon touted a “direct hit” on a moving target during a July 17 launch from an F-15E at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

But delays to the F-35 program could lead to a slowing in Pentagon purchases of the weapon. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended zeroing SDB II funding in 2013 due to delays in fielding the F-35, according to a congressional report.

Although supportive of the weapon’s capabilities, the committee expressed concern that entering production in 2013 would lead to smaller initial production rates that would raise unit costs. Purchasing more weapons per year at a later date would lower the unit cost, the Senate panel said.

The Air Force has requested funding to buy 144 SDB IIs in 2013.

The Senate Appropriations Committee included $138 million for SDB II development in its mark-up of the 2013 defense spending bill.

Raytheon spokesman John Patterson said the company "continues to execute well in this development phase of SDB II." He declined to discuss the Senate mark, citing company policy not to comment on legislation until it is passed into law.

"Our recent successful guided flight test ... demonstrates our excellent progress in fielding this much-needed capability to the warfighter," he said in an email. "Raytheon's tri-mode seeker will enable SDB II to destroy moving targets in adverse weather."

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