The US Air Force has placed its first low-rate initial production order for Raytheon’s newly developed small diameter bomb II, securing the first 144 Lot 1 weapons of what is expected to be a minimum 17,000-bomb buy.
The tri-mode seeker weapon produced in Tucson, Arizona recently passed a five-year engineering and manufacturing development phase and will be fielded initially on the USAF F-15E Strike Eagle and Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet.
In a June 12 contract announcement, the Pentagon says the $31 million deal with Raytheon buys 156 weapons including 144 live munitions, eight SDB II weapon load crew and munitions maintenance training rounds, four explosive ordnance disposal trainers, and product data.
The deal comes as the SDB II programme moves to into 28-shot “government confidence test” phase.
“That 28-launch programme will take us probably at least nine months, so we’re looking at third quarter of 2016 before operational testing will begin,” says SDB II program director Jim Sweetman in an interview with Flightglobal.
Raytheon is banking on carriage of the SDB II internally on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to open future international sales opportunities. Integration is currently slated for the F-35 Block 4 configuration for initial operational capability in 2022.
“Last thing I heard was Block 4.2. As we get closer, the details will have to be flushed out,” says Sweetman.
Nearer term, the company expects to start wind tunnel test activities with the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Sweetman says his team is making inquiries with the air force’s AC-130J Ghostrider gunship and MQ-9 Reaper communities to see when the nearest opportunity would be to pair with those platforms.
“We have some meetings at Eglin Air Force Base coming up, talking about the AC-130,” he says. “As we’re winding down [engineering and manufacturing] development test, you start looking to the future platform beyond the Super Hornet and beyond JSF.”
SDB II business development executive Jeff White says this is the only tri-mode seeker weapon on the market with the ability to hit moving land and maritime targets through adverse weather conditions with pinpoint accuracy. The weapon weighs 208lbs with a 105lb warhead.
“To be able to hit moving targets in adverse weather is a pretty specialized capability,” says White. “You can keep your stealth characteristics and carry plenty of firepower. I think that puts us in a fairly good position going forward as long as JSF integration stays on track and SDB II production stays on track.”
The US government intends to buy 17,000 SDB II weapons in total – 12,000 for the air force and 5,000 for the navy. SDB II entered development in 2010 and passed its milestone C review in May.
Lot 1 is due for delivery by May 2017, at which point the company expects to start taking international orders for JSF with initial delivery in 2020 or 2021.