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US special operators add new munition to air-launched arsenal

US special operations aircraft will be equipped with a newly-developed, guided munition developed by an Alabama-based company with a growing portfolio of sophisticated weapons and vehicle systems.

The US Air Force awarded Huntsville-based Dynetics a $10.9 million contract to deliver an initial batch of 70 GBU-69B Small Glide Munitions (SGMs) with options for 30 more.

The contract for the 22.8kg (50lb)-class munition was awarded without a competition. In a required justification and approval document for such a sole source award, the Rapid Acquisition Cell at Eglin AFB disclosed that special operations forces plan to buy 1,000 SGMs, equipping Lockheed Martin AC-130 gunships and other aircraft.

The same document explains in great detail why the Rapid Acquisition Cell decided to bypass the competitive process and award contract to Dynetics despite multiple options.

A requirement for compatibility with the common launch tube (CLT) reveals three potential competitors, but the justification document ruled out all three. The seeker for Textron’s G-CLAW failed in a flight test and its maturity remains 2-3 years behind the SGM, the USAF says. Raytheon’s Griffin missile lacks the required ability to engage targets in a 360-degree circle around the launch aircraft, the service adds. Finally, the justification document says Northrop Grumman’s Viper Strike munition doesn’t meet lethality requirements.

The air force’s ruling has put Dynetics again in the unusual position of scoring a prime contract for a niche weapon amidst much larger companies. In 2002, Dynetics designed and developed the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb, which was produced in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory. Dynetics also played a key role as a Boeing subcontractor in developing the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bomb.

“We’re sort of filling the void where the quantities of what the customers desire or what they want demonstrated just doesn’t move the needle for the large primes,” a Dynetics executive, who requests to remain anonymous, tells FlightGlobal in an interview.

Dynetics’ next step could be more ambitious. In partnership with target-drone maker Kratos and small turbofan manufacturer Williams, Dynetics is competing against General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the Gremlins programme, which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency envisions launching and retrieving small unmanned air systems from Lockheed Martin C-130s.

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