New weapon makes job of munitions specialists a 'snap'

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs
The job of loading bombs onto aircraft became a little bit easier Oct. 5 for members of the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron. They loaded the first Guided Bomb Unit-39/B Small Diameter Bomb onto an F-15E Strike Eagle headed for a combat mission over Iraq.

This munitions load signaled the beginning of a new era in ordnance handling, changing everything from weapons shipping, assembly, loading and tactics as the newest bomb in the Air Force inventory headed into battle.

The event wasn't one of fanfare and celebration for the munitions team, but of anticipation and solemn duty. Team members agree that everything about the SDB makes their bomb-loading job more efficient, while providing aircrews and troops in contact with enemy forces a powerful new tool in the skies over Iraq.

Master Sgt. Paul Perron's unit, the 379th EMXS, is responsible for munitions ranging from bullets and grenades to bombs and missiles. The munitions systems technician and his co-workers inspect, test, assemble, disassemble, store and ship thousands of weapons daily. However, Sergeant Perron says the SDB has created a buzz among Airmen at the forward-operating location, even in a group used to handling high-explosives.

A unique feature of the SDB is that it arrives on station as an "all-up round," ready to be loaded onto the aircraft or its holder immediately. Most bombs arrive in theatre in several pieces, requiring munitions specialists to bolt on tail fins, screw in fuses or work on other mechanical parts of the weapon.

"The SDB is ready to bring the fight to the enemy right out of the box," said Sergeant Perron. "We simply 'snap' it onto the all-new Bomb Rack Unit-61 weapons carriage, secure it under the jet and it's ready to receive targeting information from the aircraft."

The bombs, complete with fins and fuses, arrive prepackaged in groups of four inside a sealed container. When munitions specialists are ready to mate the bombs with the BRU they separate the individual bombs, line them up in a cradle, and lower the BRU over the munitions with a conventional forklift. The process takes about 30 to 40 minutes to secure an entire weapons package.

"We know it's properly mated when we hear a click," said Tech. Sgt. Corey Hammond, 379th EMXS production supervisor. "That's when the bomb lug securely latches into the BRU."

Sergeant Hammonds' crew is deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheat, England. They practiced preparing the SDB for more than a month before arriving in the desert. When they arrived in Southwest Asia, the munitions team already was qualified and comfortable to prepare the SDB for its combat debut.

"It's exciting to be part of this cutting-edge technology," said Airman 1st Class Nahtana Williams, a 379th EMXS munitions apprentice. "I feel like I'm a part of something historic because we were the first unit to use this."

Once the bomb is secured to the BRU, the unit is delivered to the flightline to be loaded onto an F-15E aircraft. Members of the 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron are responsible for loading the weapon and ensuring its final system checks are complete.

Lt. Gen. Gary North, the Combined Forces Air Component commander, knows the Air Force has big plans for the weapon.

"In the future, other weapons systems such as the F-22 Raptor, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit and the F-35 Lightning II will employ this new capability, adding another level of lethality to our Air Force," he said.

General North also stressed the importance of integrating the SDB into a suite of options that ground troops can rely on for support when they radio to Air Force aircraft.

"The small diameter bomb gives the Air Force, and the warfighter on the ground, another choice from the munitions carried onboard to destroy a target. The key to airpower is delivering the right bomb for a particular target with precision. That's exactly what the SDB brings to the fight," the general said.

For the small group of Airmen working in the hot desert night, this first combat sortie with the SDB in tow filled their flightline shop with pride and accomplishment.

"Ironically, watching this small bomb heading out to protect American Soldiers on the ground, we all feel like we're part of something big," said Sergeant Perron.

"It's been quite some time since we've seen a major new weapon of this caliber integrated into our inventory. In the past, it seems that most weapons debuted during peacetime -- this time, our work headed straight for the battlefield," the sergeant said.

(Editor's note: Maj. Ann Knabe, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story)