Air Weapons: September 3, 2003

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The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing Corporation design for the new SDB (Small Diameter Bomb, or 250 pound smart bomb). Boeing now has the contract to build 24,000 SDBs, and 2,000 special bomb racks for F-15s, F-22 and F-35 aircraft. It's expected that F-16s and B-1s will also get special bomb racks for the smaller (70 inches long and 7.5 inches in diameter) bomb. In effect, the special bomb racks allow an aircraft to carry four SBDs where before they could only carry one 1,000 or 2,000 pound bomb. This enables aircraft to carry a lot more bombs. Since these are GPS guided bombs, they can take out as many targets as the same number of larger bombs. 

Actually, the SBD is often more efficient, in that there are fewer civilian casualties when an SDB is used in an urban area, and friendly troops can be closer to the target when an SDB is used. While the 1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs have a spectacular effect when they go off, they are often overkill. The troops on the ground would rather have more, smaller, GPS bombs available. Thus the desire to equip the B-1 with SDBs, as this bomber could carry as many as 216 of them. The new F-22 and F-35 warplanes are stealthy and normally carry their bombs internally. This limits how many they can carry, but with the SDB, an F-22 can carry eight of them. 

The SDB is also unique in that it does not look like the larger JDAM series of smart bombs, which are conventional 500, 1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs with a smart bomb kit attached. SDB is more like an unpowered missile, with the guidance and control equipment built into the bomb. This makes the SDB even more compact, capable and expensive (about $50,000 each.) JDAM (a guidance kit attached to a dumb bomb) only cost about $20,000. The small wings also allow the bomb to glide up to 70-80 kilometers (from high altitude.) SDB also has a hard front end that can punch through several feet of rock or concrete and a warhead that does more damage than the usual dumb bomb (explosives in a metal casing.) The SDB is thus the next generation of smart bombs. There's no point in building a 250 pound dumb bomb, as they would be too inaccurate to be useful. So it made sense to merge the guidance kit and the bomb itself. But the superiority of guided bombs is such that the next generation of heavier (500-2000 pound) smart bombs will probably be like the SDB. If the SDB is as successful as expected, there will be attempts to design and use a hundred pound SDB. The next version of the SDB will have an additional seeker on the front of the bomb to provide even more accuracy (a meter or so, as in sending the bomb through a window or door.) 

 


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