The US Air Force could soon deploy a 226kg (500lb)-class guided bomb designed with a composite warhead to destroy targets while causing the least amount of collateral damage.

The first 50 Precision Lethality Mk 82 bombs could be delivered by January 2011, with up to 750 carbonfibre-wound warheads designated as BLU-129/B to follow.

The air force has issued a market survey seeking contractors that can deliver the composite warheads rapidly in response to an urgent request by Central Command, the US headquarters in the Middle East and parts of south Asia.

The Air Armament Center could award a contract as soon as August to build 125-175 warheads for a test programme, the survey says.

A "one-time production option" for 400-800 warheads could follow if the test programme is successful.

The air force also is buying a low-collateral damage version of the 130kg Boeing small diameter bomb called the full lethality munition.

Precision Lethality bombs would be nearly twice the size of the full lethality munition, but are still intended to minimise damage beyond a precise strike zone.

The new, composite BLU-129/B warheads would be installed in the Mk 82 bomb, which would be mated to a joint direct attack munition (JDAM) and laser JDAM guidance kits.

Earlier this year, the Senate added $35.5 million to overseas contingency operations budgets in fiscal year 2010 for the air force and navy to develop, test and field the Precision Lethality programme.

Source: Flight International