Airmen use GBU-38 in combat

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mae-Li Allison
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
During one particular night shift recently, a team primarily composed of Air National Guardsmen conducted the first successful drop of a GBU-38 bomb in combat.

The majority of the people connected to the effort came from the Alabama Air National Guard and were supplemented by Airmen from Illinois and Wisconsin. They worked together to put two 500-pound bombs on target and into the history books, officials said.

Two F-16 Fighting Falcons performed a simultaneous GBU-38 release on the same target in central Iraq. The bombs precisely hit a two-story building with minimal collateral damage.

This was “a successful precision strike on a confirmed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terrorist meeting,” Coalition Press Information Center officials said.

The introduction of the GBU-38 gives coalition leaders a smaller precision weapon to further decrease the likelihood of collateral damage in Iraq. This is especially important as forces continue to target insurgents and their meeting places, normally within heavily populated residential areas.

“This was the right weapon for the job,” said Lt. Col. Mitch, the lead pilot who carried out the mission. (Full names of pilots are omitted for security reasons.) “If we used any bigger of a bomb, we would have caused unnecessary damage.”

“This gave us a great sense of personal satisfaction because we really feel like we made a direct impact on the war on terror,” said Maj. Brian, the wingman on the mission.

From the assembly of the precision-guided bomb to its release in combat, hundreds of Airmen worked together to make the mission a success.

“Everybody worked so well together, despite being from different home bases and working in different jobs,” Major Brian said. “Every job counted, and people were ready at the right time -- from the intelligence, maintenance, command and control, air refueling, to us.”

The people who worked directly with the drop said this accomplishment did not come without foresight and thorough preparation. In fact, this ability to predict future mission needs and make quick, accurate changes is probably what gave this ANG team the opportunity to carry out the mission.

“Even before Sept. 11, 2001, we were modifying our aircraft’s capabilities from general-purpose daytime bombing to conducting precision strikes at night,” Colonel Mitch said.

When the GBU-38 was deemed “war-ready,” the unit’s jets already had the correct wiring necessary to connect to that particular munition, he said.

Major Brian said they were prepared to make this mission a success.

“We certainly had enough time to spool up for this mission,” he said. “We found out about a month before we deployed here that we may be dropping the GBU-38, so we spent a couple weeks learning about the different parameters needed to successfully put that bomb on target.”

In regards to the procedures to release the GBU-38, the pilots said it is no different than any other bomb.

“This is a relatively easy bomb to drop,” Colonel Mitch said. “We simply set the coordinates and deliver the bomb. There’s a slight shake in the jet as the bomb is released because [of] the sudden weight reduction, which happens after every drop.”

The weapons loaders from a maintenance squadron in the Alabama ANG said they had the proper time and training to make the mission a success.

“For this deployment, we were prepared for the possibility that we might be mounting a new munition like the GBU-38,” said Lt. Col. Woody Klinner, an Alabama ANG maintenance officer.

Recognizing the GBU-38 was soon to be released to the warfighter, Alabama ANG officials sent a load standardization crew to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to become certified instructors on loading this type of munition. When the unit deployed, the crew then immediately turned around to teach others how to load it.

Additionally, the munitions flight that helped build the bomb at the deployed location, spared no time in getting it ready for the load crews to practice mounting on the jets.

“Because they’re relatively easy bombs to build, we had the first two bombs ready for load crew training within 24 hours of receiving the parts,” said 1st Lt. Glen Titus, a munitions flight commander from Seymour Johnson AFB, S.C.

Few people working with the bomb said they knew they would be involved with the first drop in combat.

“We had an idea that we may get to put the GBU-38 on a jet, but we had no idea we’d be putting it on the first jet to use it in the war,” said Senior Airman William Russell, a weapons loader with the Alabama ANG. “It’s a good feeling knowing now we contributed to that.”

From the munitions loaders’ perspective, the training not only paid off by giving them a chance to load the bomb for a combat mission, but it also paid off by “lightening their load.”

Composed of a MK-82 with the joint direct attack munitions guidance system, the GBU-38 is considered a “lightweight” compared to most of the other munitions loaded on F-16s.

“It’s a whole lot easier to load onto the aircraft than weapons like the GBU-12, or even the GBU-31, because it’s a lot smaller and lighter,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Worley, a load crew chief in the Alabama ANG. “It takes longer to prep the station than it does to put the bomb on.”

As aircraft continue to fly supporting operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, hundreds of Airmen work together around the clock to make each mission a success. (Central Air Forces-Forward Public Affairs contributed to this article.)