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Preserving next generation firepower
WRITTEN BY :   Rebecca Grant, Ph.D.

It’s cloudy and almost dark when your cockpit display shows the President has given final approval for the carefully planned strike on the rogue mobile missile launchers. They told you before you catapulted from the aircraft carrier in your F-35C that the weather would suck.
Can your bombs still hit the target precisely enough to knock it out, without causing collateral damage?
Yes, if your plane carries the Small Diameter Bomb II. Far-fetched scenario? Perhaps. But it shows how having the right weapon in the bomb bay matters.
The SDB II is an air-launched, stand-off weapon different from bigger bombs. Just 250 lbs., it has enough accuracy and oomph to blast an armored tank. It’s size and punch make it useful for targets like enemy ballistic missile launchers, as in the example above.
Existing air-launched weapons must be able to see their targets in order to hit them. But the SDB II, can travel about 40 miles through bad weather, day or night, and still hit its target with incredibly high accuracy. Most important: it’s designed to be equally effective against moving and fixed targets.
The SDB II is small and skinny. Its nose measures only 7 inches acrossmeaning an F-35 stealth fighter can pack the weapons into its internal weapons bays. SDB II has an integrated tri-mode seeker including millimeter wave technology for use in clouds or fog.
Unfortunately, it’s weapons like these that are all too likely to be cut or delayed during Pentagon budget cuts.
Budget-cutting must be part of the solution. We need systems that fully exploit our technological superiority to accomplish objectives as efficiently as possible, with as little collateral damage as possible, and with as little risk to our service members as possible.
The SDB II is part of the next generation of weapons which will be expected to deliver a lethal blow exactly where we want while substantially reducing the risk of civilian casualties. They’ll be crucial as the number of aircraft in our combat fleets decline. The ability to drop smarter bombs at greater distances from the target reduces the exposure of our planes and crews to threats like surface-to-air missiles or anti-aircraft artillery.
Say an armored convoy column of 48 vehicles needs to be destroyed. With the SDB II, you can destroy that column with two F-35s. You’d need eight F-35s loaded with 2,000-lb. laser-guided weapons to take out the same 48 targets. Multiply that for convoys in separate locations, and SDB II becomes vital.
The fact fewer aircraft can be used to accomplish the same mission means major costs savings for taxpayers.
This kind of all-purpose combat flexibility is essential for modern warfare. Think Libya, Yemen, counter counter-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia. These operations involve relatively small groups of American military personnel operating next generation weapons.
Fast forward to that cloudy night mission. Aren’t you glad the SDB II did not get delayed back during the budget battles of 2012?
Advanced weaponry can cut down on American casualties and save lives. Rebecca Grant, Ph.D., is president of IRIS Independent Research, a public-policy research organization in Washington, DC. She is also director of the General William Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, the non-profit research arm of the Air Force Association.

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Published: December 22, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 36



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