Bidding has opened on a billion-dollar contract for a sophisticated bomb for the US Air Force and US Navy, with the request for proposals apparently structured to negate one contender’s current competitive advantage. Boeing and Lockheed Martin plan to submit a joint bid for the Small Diameter Bomb Increment II (SDB II) programme, which will introduce a capability to hit moving targets.

Their only competitor, Raytheon, acknowledges it would have been in a disadvantaged position if the air force had awarded the contract earlier this year, as planned. “They [Boeing/Lockheed] can put together a very desirable package,” says Bill Chapman, the company’s SDB II programme manager. However, Raytheon’s position was helped by the USAF’s decision to downselect to as many as two bidders in early 2006, then conduct a 42-month, $300 million risk-reduction phase. By the end of that period, Raytheon believes the technical maturity of its proposed weapon will be “very competitive” with that of the Boeing/Lockheed team, says Chapman.

Announced in late September, the Boeing/Lockheed alliance pairs the current manufacturer for SDB Increment I and the maker of the most sophisticated tri-mode seeker on the market, now in development for Lockheed’s Joint Common Missile (JCM) programme. Raytheon has experience with tri-mode seekers from taking part in the risk-reduction phase of the JCM competition and through a previous development effort for the cancelled extended-range tank munition.

The SDB II project requires a tri-mode seeker less sophisticated than the JCM design, relying heavily on an emerging network of sensors feeding updated co-ordinates to the guided bomb while it is in flight. That network’s still undefined status may be another reason for the USAF’s long risk-reduction phase.

The US Defense Advance Research Projects Agency has set up a project called Quint Networking Technology, which seeks to build hardware based on the weapons datalink architecture nearing completion by the US Air Force Research Laboratory.


Source: Flight International