Raytheon Missiles & Defense has conducted the first guided release of the StormBreaker smart glide weapon from a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Tucson-based weapons developer announced on June 15. The trial was conducted over the Atlantic Test Range by an aircraft flying from Patuxent River in Maryland. Designated GBU-53/B and formerly known as the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) II, the StormBreaker (renamed to avoid confusion with the Boeing GBU-39/B SDB) employs a tri-mode seeker along with GPS/inertial guidance.
The seeker marries an imaging infrared sensor for enhanced target discrimination, a semi-active laser system to hit points designated by either the launch platform or an offboard laser, and a millimeter-wave radar that can detect and track targets through weather and in any light conditions. The guidance section draws and fuses information from all three sensors, to provide accurate attack capability against both fixed and moving targets. A GPS/inertial system is used for guidance during the fly-out to the target vicinity.
When released from high altitude, the StormBreaker has a range of more than 45 miles (72km) against moving targets thanks to pop-out wings, and can reach over 62 miles (100km) against a fixed target. Weighing 204 pounds (93kg)—of which 105 pounds is the warhead—and with a compact form, the StormBreaker can be carried on quad-store racks.
Having successfully demonstrated its ability to hit moving targets in July 2012, with follow-up successes in September 2014 and February 2015, the GBU-53/B passed Milestone C in May 2015 with low-rate initial production beginning soon after. The weapon was initially integrated on the Boeing F-15E, a process completed in April 2018. However, it has been reported that production has been halted and operational clearance delayed while problems with fin clips have been resolved. The F-15E can carry a maximum of seven four-round racks for a total of 28 GBU-53s.
In the meantime, integration work continues with the U.S. Navy’s Super Hornet, which is scheduled to be the second aircraft cleared to use the weapon. Initial operational capability is planned for late 2020. StormBreaker is also intended to arm the Lockheed Martin F-35Bs and F-35Cs of the Marine Corps and the Navy. Even the small internal weapons bays of the F-35B can each accommodate a four-round GBU-53 rack along with an AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile, a loadout fit-checked in January 2013. External carriage could bring the F-35’s maximum load to 16.
The F-35A will also be capable of carrying the weapon, and a number of export customers have signaled their intent to procure the StormBreaker. In late 2017 a sale of 3,900 GBU-53s to Australia was cleared for use with F-35As. South Korea has also shown an interest, as have other F-15 and F-35 users. Integration of the GBU-53 to the F-35 is part of the Block 4 software upgrade, and is scheduled to be accomplished by 2023.