USAFE unit debuts small diameter bomb in combat

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The Guided Bomb Unit-39/B small diameter bomb was flown into combat for the first time Oct. 5 by members of the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

The unit, deployed to the Southwest Asia area of operations, launched a two-ship formation of F-15E Strike Eagles at 1:30 a.m. EDT carrying the new air-to-ground bomb on a mission to provide close-air support for ground troops operating in Iraq.

"Today, we added an extraordinary capability to our warfighter's arsenal," said Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, the Combined Forces Air Component commander. "The GBU-39/B (small diameter bomb) provides the Air Force with the ability to reduce collateral damage, while providing joint terminal attack controllers another option to prosecute targets. It is a significant milestone for our coalition forces fighting the global war on terror.

"This new air-to-ground munition gives our warfighters the explosive power of a conventional bomb without the fragmentation and blast area of other weapons in our inventory," he said.

The new bomb, the first of its kind in the Air Force inventory, gives aircrews the ability to destroy targets that would normally be "passed over" due to the proximity of friendly troops, civilians, structures or personal property. As the smallest guided bomb in the Air Force, munitions crews are able to load more of the 250-pound bombs onto an aircraft, compared to larger, heavier guided weapons.

"Obviously, because of its size, our aircraft are able to carry more individual weapons into battle, benefiting the Soldiers on the ground with more opportunities to defend their positions, while precisely destroying targets that would threaten American, coalition and Iraqi lives," General North said.

"The SDB is uniquely qualified for urban targets that call for precision accuracy and reduced collateral damage and in close-air-support missions that our aircrews find themselves in during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom," General North said. "We now have the ability to put ordnance in places where collateral damage might be a concern."

The F-15E Strike Eagle squadron, and its corresponding aircraft maintenance unit, from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, is the first unit deployed in the war on terrorism with the capability to employ the SDB. For some of these Airmen, Operation Iraqi Freedom marks the first time they will drop live bombs on enemy targets.

Aircrews began training on the academics of the bomb and in simulators in May, said Capt. Matt Hund, 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron chief of weapons and tactics.

The SDB is an all-weather Global Positioning System-guided munition capable of standoff ranges in excess of 40 miles. Aircrews have the ability to hit single or multiple targets on one bombing pass by programming GPS coordinates into the bomb.

"We can drop our entire payload of small diameter bombs at one time and each weapon will independently track to its own target," Captain Hund said. "Or, we drop one small diameter bomb at a time, depending on what the forces on the ground need and the type of target we're going to destroy."

Additionally, the pilot or weapons system officer can reprogram the SDB with different fuses for different targets while the aircraft is en route to its target. The bomb, once dropped, rolls and its 5-foot diamond-back wings pop out as it glides to its target.

To ensure all goes well with the first SDB deployment, members of the Air Armament Center's 681st Armament Systems Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are on hand to provide expert advice as the bomb and aircraft are integrated for combat operations. Capt. Jim Parslow, the SDB Systems Flight commander, oversaw the loading of the small bomb as weapons loaders secured the weapons to the aircraft for their first combat sortie.

"We brought a small cadre of specialists to the desert at the request of the flying unit to make sure there's a seamless transition from test activities -- the operational developmental test activities -- to combat operations," Captain Parslow said.

Capt. Meghan Stanley, one of the 494th EFS aircrew members, looks forward to seeing how months of training will pay off.

"Being that it is the Air Force's newest weapon, I'm proud to be a part of the team that is the first to bring it down range," said the weapons system officer.

The small diameter bomb was developed and tested at several locations around the United States including, Eglin AFB; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; Nellis AFB, Nev.; and the White Sands Missile Range, N.M.