Lakenheath tests small-diameter bombs

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael Hess
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Four F-15E Strike Eagles, each loaded with the newest small-diameter bombs in the Air Force inventory, known as guided bomb units, launched the first operational training mission with the munitions July 10.

The 494th Fighter Squadron aircrews tested the capability of the GBU-39 and trained with aircraft modifications that assist the munitions to reach their full potential.

The aircrew found the weapon was "exactly as advertised."

"We are very happy with the results of the training mission. It's a testament to the increased precision and lethality that the 48th Fighter Wing will bring to the fight," said Brig. Gen. Robert P. Steel, 48th FW commander.

Small diameter bombs deploy 5-foot wings to direct the 36 pounds of explosive material contained in the 250-pound, 71-inch bodies to destroy a target with frightening precision.

"Our four-ship (formation) today hit 16 targets with 16 bombs in one pass," said Lt. Col. Will Reese, 494th Fighter Squadron commander.

The bombs tested at the range were training munitions, but proved the capability to rain 16 bombs on 16 different targets in a single pass, which is an unheard of innovation over other conventional weapons.

"In Operation Desert Storm, you could expect one plane loaded with six bombs to destroy one target. Now, we can use one bomb per target and each aircraft can carry up to 16 bombs," Colonel Reese said.

These highly trained Airmen, modified aircraft and state-of-the-art bombs will deploy in September to support operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, officials said. The smart weapon can penetrate reinforced concrete, compacted earth or airburst to create fragment damage, though each setting significantly reduces collateral damage.

The aircrew viewed video of initial testing that showed a GBU-39 destroy a target and leave the building beside it unscathed.

"The precision of this bomb translates to less collateral damage. That's a huge capability," said Capt. Joseph Siberski, 48th Operations Support Squadron weapons and tactics.

The 494th FS didn't become the most advanced F-15E squadron in the Air Force overnight.

"Our people have worked hard to ensure we can deploy the 494th Fighter Squadron to provide an unprecedented level of precision, lethality and airpower flexibility to the combined forces air component commander and land component commanders in the CENTCOM area of responsibility," General Steel said.

Airmen and civilian contractors began a major overhaul of the wing's aircraft in January, modifying them so they could carry the small-diameter bomb.

The three big components they needed to make this happen were the new targeting pods, processors and software. The processor and Suite 5 software work as a team to allow aircrew never-before-experienced control of the munitions in battle. The bomb release units, or BRUs, are similar to an ammo clip on a handgun and increase the average payload by four times. The Link-16 imagery system offers information via wireless connection to every friendly entity in a target area -- ground support, command centers and other aircraft. The advanced targeting pod, installed in 2005, allows the aircraft to see significantly farther.

The software-hardware package makes all these modifications possible.

"The air operations center can identify a new target and send us a photo of it while we are in the air," said Capt. Matt Hund, 494th FS weapons and tactics.

If four modified F-15Es take off from a deployed air base with the mission to destroy an underground bunker, but the AOC decides they need to destroy protective aircraft shelters instead, all it takes is one transmission to the Strike Eagle aircrews to carry out the new mission, Captain Hund said.

The target can change or move and the mission can still go on.

"We used to sit around a big wooden table and plan out a mission the day before. Now, we can change an objective mid-mission," Colonel Reese said.

In flight, aircrews love the versatility and range of the weapon. On the ground, the munitions Airmen laud the weapon for its ease of handling and preparation time, which benefits everyone except the target.

"It's faster from every standpoint," said Staff Sgt. Chance Morris, 494th Aircraft Maintenance Unit munitions load team chief.

"The GBU-39 comes fully ready to deploy. We load the bombs onto the BRU-61, load the unit to the plane and it's ready to go," Sergeant Morris said.

Many other bombs arrive in pieces, which munitions Airmen assemble, load onto a trailer and eventually load on the aircraft.

"The faster these guys can load and unload the weapons, the more jets we can get in the air," Captain Hund said.

On the ground and in the air, the small-diameter bomb and the aircraft modifications allow the wing's aircraft to bring more lethality and accuracy to the fight.

"We don't want to say that there's anything wrong with the old system. The other aircraft on RAF Lakenheath and throughout the Air Force are still capable to fight and win. But these modified aircraft are simply more lethal. It's a significant technological leap," Captain Siberski said.