StormBreaker steps closer to F-35 integration after recent test

Integration of the GBU-53/B StormBreaker air-launched, precision-guided glide bomb on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter has moved a step closer after the US Navy, in partnership with Raytheon Missiles & Defense, recently carried out two successful guided test vehicle releases.

The recent tests were carried out by a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL)-configured F-35B at Mach 0.9 (1,111km/h), marking the fastest release of a GBU-53/B StormBreaker test munition from an F-35 to date. The successful completion of these tests were revealed by Raytheon Missiles & Defense on September 19.

An F-35B Lightning II peels away with its internal weapons bay doors open, showing what appears to be four GBU-53/B StormBreaker air-launched, precision-guided glide bombs inside.
An F-35B Lightning II peels away with its internal weapons bay doors open, showing what appears to be four GBU-53/B StormBreaker air-launched, precision-guided glide bombs inside. Raytheon

The firm explained that during these recent tests, the two weapons were successfully deployed within 30 minutes of each other and that the GBU-53/Bs performed the required flight behaviours expected from them. According to Raytheon, these two latest weapon guided test vehicle releases complete a seven shot rate capture series, allowing the F-35B test programme to move onto the weapon capability testing phase.

Commenting on the success of these recent tests, Paul Ferraro – president of Air Power at Raytheon Missiles & Defense – said: “No other fielded air-to-surface weapon can accomplish what StormBreaker can against complex targets in contested environments. Tests like these continue the progress on integrating StormBreaker into fifth-generation platforms in an effort to get this much-needed capability to US and allied warfighters as soon as possible.”

Formerly known as the Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II), StormBreaker is equipped with a tri-mode seeker head that comprises a millimetre-wave radar, which detects and tracks targets through all weather conditions; a semi-active laser, enabling the munition to track an airborne or ground-based laser designator; and infrared imaging capabilities that provide enhanced target discrimination. While small in size, the munition has been designed for use at stand-off ranges to enhance aircrew survivability and can strike static or mobile targets at distances greater than 45 miles.

StormBreaker has already been integrated onto the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle and gained approval for operational use onboard the type in September 2020. The US Air Force (USAF) declared Initial Operating Capability (IOC) earlier this year. As the StormBreaker programme continues to evolve, the platform’s integration roadmap aims to expand the weapon’s use to both manned and unmanned platforms, including the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) also revealed plans to equip its F-35A fleet with StormBreaker on July 18, 2022.