The US Navy (USN) will field the Raytheon Stormbreaker precision-guided bomb on its fleet of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet carrier-based fighters.
Naval Air Systems Command on 6 November revealed it has granted early operational capability (EOC) status to the Stormbreaker on F/A-18E/F types, marking the first USN aircraft to receive approval for the all-weather precision munition. The certification was granted in October.
Fielded under the service designation Small Diameter Bomb-II (SBD-II), the Stormbreaker is an air-launched, precision stand-off weapon able to strike moving and fixed targets. The glide bomb uses a seeker head equipped with infrared sensors, a millimetre-wave radar and a semi-active laser to see through adverse weather conditions, including fog, smoke and rain.
“This weapon will give our war fighters a much-needed capability and provide the basis for future network-enabled weapons,” says Tyler Alt, SDB-II programme manager for the navy.
The munition can also be guided via GPS, although the Pentagon is actively seeking alternatives to that battle-tested method for precision strikes. Military planners assume that modern adversaries will employ GPS-jamming in future conflicts.
The Stormbreaker is already in service with the US Air Force’s Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle multi-role fighters, having been approved for use on the twin-engined jet in 2020.
Both the air force and navy are in the process of certificating the weapon system for use with the full fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters, including the carrier-based and short take-off and vertical landing variants.
Integration is also underway with the Lockheed F-16 strike fighter.
“The weapon’s unprecedented capabilities provide aviators with the ability to strike targets in difficult and dynamic scenarios,” says Paul Ferraro, president of air power at Raytheon.
Stormbreaker boasts the ability to travel more than 35nm (65km) after being launched, reducing the amount of time a friendly aircraft spends within range of enemy air defences. Raytheon achieved this through the use of retractable glide wings and an operational weight of just 93kg (204lb).
Ferraro says the weapon’s stand-off ability is helping to ensure “the continued relevance of fourth-generation aircraft”, such as the F/A-18.
Fourth-generation fighters, such as the F-16 and F-15, do not feature the stealth technology of the next-generation F-35, making them vulnerable to ground-based air defences.
“StormBreaker is a prime example of how we are using digital technologies to deliver advanced air dominance weapons, ensuring the continued relevance of fourth-generation aircraft.”
In addition to its range, the SDB-II can also be provided with a target after the bomb has been released. According to the USN, the system has the capability to receive updated target coordinates mid-flight via a two-way data link.
“Using these network options, SDB-II allows airborne or ground controllers the ability to send in-flight target updates,” the navy says.
The service hopes to achieve initial operational capability for the SDB-II F/A-18 integration in 2024, following two additional test events.
Despite plans to field more than 200 of the carrier-capable fifth-generation F-35C, the Super Hornet is expected to remain the backbone of the USN fighter fleet for several decades.
According to Cirium data, the USN had 416 E/F-model Super Hornets in active service at the start of 2023, plus an additional 152 EA-18G electronic warfare jets based on the same airframe.