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General Atomics to integrate precision-guided small diameter bomb onto Reaper drone

Precision-guided glide bomb would give the Reaper a 75 km stand-off weapons capability

Update November 28 The U.S. Department of Defense published a correction, saying: “The contract announced on Nov. 27, 2017, to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., for $17,461,954 has not yet been awarded”

General Atomics has been awarded a $17.5 million contract to integrate the laser small diameter bomb onto its MQ-9 Reaper drone, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a Monday, November 27 press release.

The integration of the 250-pound precision-guided glide bomb, recently launched from F-22s to strike Taliban drug factories in Afghanistan, would give the Reaper a 75-km stand-off weapons capability and reduce the U.S. Air Force need for more expensive and dangerous manned missions.

“General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, has been awarded a $17,461,954 contract for integration of the Guided Bomb Unit-39B/B, also known as laser small diameter bomb onto the MQ-9 Reaper via universal armament interface on a dual carriage system,” the release said.

Work is expected to be completed by November 27, 2021.

In its April presolicitation,  the U.S. Air Force said it intended to award a contract for the “required support, planning, analysis, installation, testing, and execution of GBU-39B/B integration via the Universal Armament Interface (UAI) onto a Block 5 MQ-9 Reaper UAS” noting that General Atomics is the “sole designer, developer, and manufacturer of the Reaper systems and is the only firm that possesses the necessary knowledge, experience and technical data required to perform these efforts.”

GBU-39B Small Diameter Bomb
Ground-training GBU-39 small-diameter bombs loaded on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on August 1, 2006. Image: US Air Force/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung

Reaper drone weapons systems

The MQ-9 Reaper drone can currently use AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bombs, and, since May, 500-pound GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). The addition of the GBU-39B/B glide bomb, which has long been mooted for the Reaper, will give the drone both a significant stand-off capability and the ability to carry out more strikes per mission due to the weapon’s smaller size.

The GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb is a 250-pound precision-guided glide bomb with a stand-off range of more than 40 nautical miles (74 km). It uses a GPS-aided inertial navigation system to attack fixed or stationary targets.

The weapons system is designed to enable aircraft to carry a higher number of smaller, more accurate bombs. Many U.S. Air Force aircraft – including the F-15E, F-16, F-117, B-1, B-2, F-22 and F-35 – can carry a pack of four GBU-39 SDBs in place of a single 2,000-pound bomb.

The Laser Small Diameter Bomb variant planned for the Reaper integrates the JDAM’s semi-active laser, enabling the bomb to hit targets moving at up to 80 km/h (50 mph) and has been fielded by the U.S. Special Operations Command since 2014.

Long-awaited integration

Lieutenant General Arnold Bunch told Scout Warrior in 2015 that the Air Force had begun the process of adding new weapons systems to the Reaper via a universal armament interface.

“We’re looking at anything that is in our inventory, including the small diameter bomb, Bunch said. “We’re working to get universal armament interface with an open mission systems architecture.”

The universal interface would allow faster and cheaper integration of new weapons technology as well as more efficiently swap or replace bombs on the drone, Bunch said.

Inside Defense reported in May that the integration of the Laser Small Diameter Bomb was the first step in a plan field the GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb II on the Reaper. This more modern glide bomb can track moving ground targets and has a range of 40 nautical miles.

Air-to-air missiles are also viewed as a likely addition to the Reaper’s arsenal.

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