LE BOURGET, France — Once Raytheon gets approval from the Pentagon to integrate its GBU-49 guided bomb with the F-35, it will take only a couple months to wrap up the necessary testing, a company official told Defense News on Thursday.
The U.S. Air Force and more recently the U.S. Marine Corps have identified Raytheon's GBU-49 as the quickest way to give the F-35 the ability to prosecute moving targets. Currently, the F-35's ability to strike moving targets is somewhat limited, requiring the pilot to manually direct a GBU-12 to its destination.
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The Air Force has since issued a request for information seeking details about precision-guided munitions that would allow the F-35 to hit moving targets — potentially broadening its search into a competition. However, Mike Jarrett, Raytheon's vice president of air warfare systems, believes the service will ultimately opt to sole source the GBU-49 from Raytheon.
"We have the capability in our inventory today, and we don't believe that anybody else does," he said. "That's the reason why we were able to do an accelerated integration. That's why we convinced the services to put it in 3f," the software for the F-35 when the aircraft reaches full operational capability.
The GBU-49 was designed with built-in "lead laser capability" that allows the bomb to calculate how far a target will move, an ability the F-35’s suite of weapons doesn’t have in its 3i configuration, or the current software that has been in use since the aircraft hit initial operational capability last year.
Integrating GBU-49 with the F-35 can be done within the "single digital months" because much of the necessary activities have already taken place. GBU-49’s interfaces are very similar to the dual-mode Paveway 4 — which has already been integrated on the joint strike fighter for the U.K. — and its size and flight characteristics are comparable to the GBU-12 that’s part of the F-35’s 3i weapons load. Much of the ground-based testing has already been completed by Raytheon and F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin, Jarrett explained.
The U.S. services "will do a few flight test drops," he said, "but we as a company have worked with Lockheed in their facilities in Fort Worth in the lab environment to make sure that the interfaces and everything are what they need to be."
Once the U.S. services adopts GBU-49, it’s likely other F-35 customers will as well, which could ultimately boost sales of the weapon, Jarrett said.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.