The Pentagon is one step closer to fielding its smartest bomb ever

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A GBU-53/B StormBreaker glide bomb

A GBU-53/B StormBreaker glide bomb

StormBreaker: It's not just for thunder gods anymore.

The Navy has conducted a guided release of the GBU-53/B StormBreaker bomb from an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for the first time — a major step towards reaching initial operating capability later this year — as defense contractor Raytheon announced last week.

Originally known as the Small Diameter Bomb II in reference to its predecessor munition, the StormBreaker is a precision-guided glide bomb designed to strike mobile targets regardless of weather conditions thanks to an advanced multi-mode guidance system.

Here's how the StormBreaker's seeker tech operates: a millimeter-wave radar detects and tracks targets through weather; an imaging infrared "provides enhanced target discrimination"; and a semi-active laser "enables the weapon to track an airborne laser designator or one on the ground," according to Raytheon.

"StormBreaker is the only weapon that enables pilots to hit moving targets during bad weather or if dust and smoke are in the area," StormBreaker program director Cristy Stagg said in a statement

"Super Hornet pilots will be able to use poor visibility to their advantage when StormBreaker integration is complete."

In other words, this missile can literally see through the fog of war. 

The StormBreaker will eventually see action from not only the Super Hornet, but the F-15E Eagle and, eventually, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, according to Raytheon.

But as The War Zone notes, it's unclear exactly when the Navy and Air Force may actually end up fielding the advanced munition. The Government Accountability Office's June 2020 assessment of Pentagon weapons programs notes that the StormBreaker's IOC was already delayed until August 2020 due to various deficiencies. 

"During operational testing in 2018-2019, the program completed 56 mission scenarios and reported 11 failures," according to the GAO assessment. "Eight [failures] were software related and are being addressed through new software releases, two were hardware related and corrective actions have been implemented, and one was the result of an anomaly with the guidance component."

Following the release of the GAO report, Defense News reported that production and deliveries of the StormBreaker to the Pentagon had been at a halt for nearly a year as Raytheon worked to correct technical problems — namely that the clips that hold the bomb’s fins in place “[suffer] vibration fatigue over long flight hours."

"While this problem could affect all aircraft carrying the bomb, officials said the greatest impact is to the F-35, because the bomb is carried in the aircraft’s internal weapons bay and could cause serious damage if the fins deploy while the bomb is in the bay," according to the GAO report.

While Raytheon and the Air Force are working overtime to correct the issue and restart production by July, the problem appears to be the only thing standing in the way of actually outfitting U.S. aircraft with the brand new munition.

“The fin clip failure is the sole reason production was partially halted," Air Force spokesman Capt. Jake Bailey told Defense News. "Once final government approval is obtained, ‘all up round’ production can resume.” 

Until then, the only StormBreaker that airman can plan on enjoying downrange is that wielded by the Son of Odin — for now: