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Small-diameter bomb makes F-15E squadron more lethal

  • Published
  • By Louis A. Arana-Barradas
  • Air Force Print News
When the 494th Fighter Squadron deploys to Southwest Asia later this year, its new small-diameter bomb will make its F-15E Strike Eagles even more lethal.

The squadron will be the first to use the Air Force's new Guided Bomb Unit-39 bomb. It is a thin, Global Positioning System-guided 250-pound bomb that sprouts diamond-back wings and glides to its target from a stand-off distance.

Though they practice with simulated bombs, "Panthers" squadron aircrews at this noisy fighter base about 70 miles northeast of London are ready to use the bomb now, squadron commander Lt. Col. Will Reese said.

"Our aircrews are fully trained on the system," the colonel said. "We're prepared now do well with the bomb."

The colonel from Las Vegas said the Air Force took no gamble when it decided to buy the weapon system.

"This weapon is a great choice," he said. "The folks that designed it and its interface with the F-15E certainly did their homework. They did a great job."

Squadron aircrews started training on the academics of the bomb and on a simulator in May, Capt. Matt Hund said. A Strike Eagle weapons systems officer, he is the squadron's chief of weapons and tactics. It is his job to make sure squadron aircrews know how to use all the weapons in the unit's arsenal. He also comes up with ways to employ the weapons.

In mid June, the jets started to receive the hardware and software upgrades that will enable weapons systems officers to "talk" to the new bomb -- and all those on the jet's nine hard points where bombs attach -- the captain from Leavenworth, Kan., said.

Then, in July, the unit received several of the bomb's "smart" bomb rack units, or BRU-61. Filled with electronics, the racks allow jets to drop simulated bombs. The unit wasted no time putting their training to use. On July 10, four Strike Eagles with the smart racks went to a range and electronically simulated dropping 16 bombs on 16 targets. They hit them all in one pass.

Back on the ground after the mission, the aircrews could not get the smiles off their faces, Colonel Reese said. The mission was successful because everything the aircrews do in training -- to the moment they hit the button to drop their bombs -- is exactly the same way they fight.

"We were able to go against a very complex target set, a complex scenario and sling all those weapons -- some independently targeted against some very far-away targets," the colonel said.

Captain Hund, who has 1,200 flying hours in the jet, said the training will continue until the unit deploys. Once at their deployed base, the captain said squadron aircrews will not drop practice bombs. The first time they drop the bombs will be on enemy targets.

"If we wanted, we could drop 12 weapons at one time," Captain Hund said. "We could hit the 'pickle' button once and all 12 would drop -- and hit 12 different targets. Or we can drop one at a time. We can program each one individually. And we can do it from a stand-off range and not worry about the airplane."

And while in flight, if a mission changes, aircrews can reprogram their bombs with different fuses for different targets. Once dropped, the bomb rolls and its 5-foot diamond-back wings pop out and it glides to its target.

The bomb's versatility "allows us to do several things we were previously not able to do," said Colonel Reese, who has more than 1,400 hours in the Strike Eagle.

The bomb makes the gray ground-attack fighter more lethal because in its current configuration it can carry up to 12 of the bombs and achieve much of the same effect as if dropping bigger ones. That allows the jet to carry more weapons, which means hitting more targets, he said. And the bomb is more precise than previous bombs, which helps cut collateral damage.

Plus, since the fighters can drop bombs from farther away, it gives Strike Eagles a higher survivability rate. The stand-off distance -- about three times that of like weapons -- will make the jet less vulnerable to advanced surface-to-air missiles systems, Colonel Reese said.

"Any type threat like that isn't going to be a threat to us any more," he said.

The bomb, which looks like a stubby rocket because of its slim design, has other advantages. It is simple to get ready, maintain, load and use. That is because bombs come in a single unit already attached to their smart bomb rack and are ready for loading on jets. They have programmable fuses, too.

Lakenheath bomb builders and loaders have four training bombs that are exact replicas of the real bombs. They are part of the package that includes the bomb racks.

At the 48th Munitions Squadron conventional maintenance shop, Senior Airman Larry Degrange said they still build bombs. The "ammo" troops attach fuses or tail kits on bombs depending on the mission.

But the new bomb takes the guesswork out of bomb building. Bomb troops do not have to build it or attach a fuse. That makes the job easier, the munitions systems Airman from Lake City, Fla., said. The bomb makers spent three days learning about the small-diameter bomb.

"We really don't do much of anything to it," he said. "All we do is test it, take it out of the can, put it on a trailer and send it out to the line. It takes all the work out of what we do."

Before sending them to the jets, the troops attach the bombs -- while still in their container -- to a test kit that makes sure all of its internal systems and software are working.

"If it passes, it's good to go," he said. "It takes about 10 minutes to send the bomb to a jet."

Out on the line, 494th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crews take over. Like the bomb builders, the loaders' training with the new bomb has been easier. One weapons load crew chief said teams save a lot of time loading the new bombs.

"We've been loading them four at a time on one rack," Staff Sgt. Randy Broome said.

Before, load crews had to load bombs one at a time. That could take up to 20 minutes per bomb, depending on the kind, the sergeant from Houston said. Now it is taking his crew from 15 to 20 minutes to load the new bomb package.

"Essentially, it becomes a slam load, as we call it," the sergeant said. "We put it on the jammer (bomb load cart), lift it up, secure it to the rack, connect the cable and it's done. It's an easy and quick process."

Colonel Reese is satisfied with the progress his Airmen are making to adapt the new bomb into the squadron's already potent arsenal. And though he said it is a great addition to the Strike Eagle's capabilities, the small-diameter bomb is just another tool in its toolkit. That allows the squadron to provide combatant commanders more lethal options.

"On one side of the aircraft we have a bunch of smart racks with small-diameter bombs," the colonel said. "But we also have some laser-guided bombs on the other side."

The aircraft can also carry missiles and has a potent 20 mm cannon. The colonel said the whole package is what makes the squadron effective.

"We can show up and say, 'Hey boss, we have a whole range of tools we can use,'" Colonel Reese said. "That's really the strength of our unit."