Boeing-Saab Team Demonstrate Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb
The companies completed three successful launches of the weapon last month during tests in Vidsel, Sweden, said Beth Kluba, Boeing’s vice president of weapons and missile systems. They could deliver the capability as early as 18 months after the first contract is signed.
"We did a series of shots over a couple of weeks and had success with each one of them,” she said. Several potential customers — which she declined to name — attended the demonstrations. “Those customers were there because they were very interested and they wanted to see it proven out themselves, and as a result we're following up with them and in some pretty intense conversations with them on moving towards requirements definition.”
It will be on Boeing and Saab to convince potential buyers such as the U.S. Army that a ground-launched version of the small diameter bomb is worth the price. The companies have developed the weapon entirely with internal funding, and there are no competitions or existing requirements for it either internationally or in the United States, Kluba said.
As a result, the companies designed the new SDB variant with affordability in mind, she said. The weapon incorporates two off-the-shelf systems: Boeing’s small diameter bomb I and the multi-launch rocket system’s M26 rocket motor. M26 rockets are being phased out of many military arsenals because of international bans on cluster munitions.
“This gives an opportunity for customers to reuse the investment that they’ve already made in these rockets rather than just to demilitarize them,” she said. “That’s a great cost avoidance for customers."
The companies designed an inter-stage adapter to connect the small diameter bomb to the rocket motor.
After the ground-launched small diameter bomb is fired, it separates from the rocket motor, deploys its wings and fins and acts in the same way an air-launched SDB does, Kluba said. During demonstrations, it was crucial to show that the bomb could survive a launch and safely separate from the rocket as planned.
"Coming off of a [ground] launcher is a very stressful, rugged launch,” she said. It’s “very unlike an air launch” because of the greater heat and pressure.
During demonstrations, the team proved that the ground-launched SDB, like its air-launched brother, can execute a “reverse slope engagement,” in which the bomb doubles back to hit a target, she said. In that way, ground forces can fire a small diameter bomb to hit a target located around a mountain or behind the launcher itself.
Boeing and Saab initially are focusing on 10 potential customers, including countries that have purchased the SDB and multi-launch rocket system, said Michael Andersson, president and CEO of Saab North America. He and Kluba said they were confident the ground-launched variant would find a buyer, even if the U.S. Army ultimately decides against procuring it.
One of the benefits of having a ground-launched version of the small diameter bomb is that it increases the options available to a commander, Kluba said. “He can prioritize his air assets and use them for more strategic missions,” she said. “The ground launched capability of an SDB can cover many of those missions previously performed by the air-launched assets."
Another advantage is that it is less expensive to fire a weapon from the ground compared to launching it from an aircraft, like the original small diameter bomb, she said. She declined to detail potential costs of a ground-launched SDB, adding that the figure would depend on the volume of bombs purchased and whether the customer in question already had M26 rockets available for use.
The ground-based SDB has a 93-mile range, according to information provided by the companies. On a multiple launch rocket system, up to six rockets can be launched per pod.
Boeing has stated its intention to build a ground-launched small diameter bomb for years, but Saab’s involvement in the program is comparatively recent. The companies signed a teaming agreement in August, Kluba said. She and Andersson declined to disclose the exact nature of Saab’s contributions to the program and how the companies have split development costs.
Saab has been sharing everything from engineering capability to its experience in the global market, Andersson said.
The Air Force eventually plans to acquire the Raytheon-produced small diameter bomb II, which recently completed live fire tests. However, the market for Boeing’s SDB I continues to be strong, Kluba asserted.
“We see that line continuing for quite a long time,” she said. “We’re very confident right now [that] there’s no end in sight for SDB I."
The ground-launched SDB is just one derivative that Boeing is developing in order to boost interest in the weapon, Kluba said. The company is testing a laser-guided version of the small diameter bomb, which some in Congress have said could be an interim solution for the SDB II. Boeing is also working on technologies that would protect the bomb from jamming and allow it to function in GPS-denied environments.
Photo: Small diameter bomb (Boeing)
Topics: Bomb and Warhead