Raytheon announced the milestone for the StormBreaker program on Oct. 13, 2020. The Air Force had planned to declare initial operational capability with the GBU-53/B on the F-15E in August, but that had been delayed to correct issues with the weapon’s software and guidance system, as well as address safety concerns associated with the bomb’s folding tail fins, all of which you can read about more in this previous War Zone piece on the weapon.
“The weapon has proven itself in many complex test scenarios, against a variety of targets in extreme environmental conditions, and is now ready to fly,” Cristy Stagg, the StormBreaker Program Director at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, said in a press release. “With its multimode seeker and datalink, StormBreaker will make adverse weather irrelevant.”
The GBU-53/B, originally known as the Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II), has a tri-mode guidance system able to find targets using imaging infrared or millimeter-wave radar, or using semi-active laser homing to hit a designated aimpoint. Depending on the altitude of the launching aircraft, the weapon can also glide up to 69 miles on its own using a GPS-assisted inertial navigation system, after which could strike a specific coordinate or begin searching for a target. As Raytheon’s Stagg noted, this offers immense flexibility, giving this single weapon the ability to engage both stationary and moving targets, even at night or in bad weather.
“The SDB II StormBreaker is ready for operational use after undergoing extensive development and flight testing,” Air Force Colonel Jason Rusco, the SDB II Program Manager and Miniature Munitions Division Senior Materiel Leader within the Air Force’s Armament Directorate, said in a separate statement. “The fielding milestone is the culmination of years of incredible work conducted by our joint military and industry teams. This capability is unmatched and is a game-changer for national defense.”
Pairing StormBreaker with the F-15E promises to be an even more lethal combination. The GBU-53/Bs diminutive size means that a single Strike Eagle will be able to carry up to 28 of these weapons, in total, using special racks that allow the aircraft to carry up to four of the bombs on a single pylon.
In addition, while the F-15E is the first aircraft cleared to employ the GBU-53/B, it won’t be the only platform able to carry these weapons. The Navy conducted its first guided launch of one of these weapons from an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet earlier this year, as seen in the video below.