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Air Force: New bomb technology behind large air platform innovation

Oct. 30, 2002: The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber approaches an U.s. Air Force KC-10(A) tanker plane over the Missouri sky to receive an aerial refueling after taking off from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri. (Reuters)

U. S. Air Force investigators and bomb-makers are expressing concern that the modernisation of the air-dropped weapons has been lagging behind the many technical developments built in the greater platforms that they drop, such as the B-2, F-35 and the new B-21.

While the progress in the stealth-technology, targeting, aerodynamics and computer avionics all continue to grow at alarming speeds, innovations when it comes to the bom configurations have not seen a proportionate technical gear, service leaders say.

“The bomb body, minus the guidance unit, is relatively unchanged. A 500-lb. bomb body was flown in 1918, and the F-35 is now falling. You can’t with a plane, and not the same generation of ammunition in connection with the” Maj. Gen. Larry Stutzriem, USAF (Ret.) said at the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

Of course, the seeker technology and the progress of guidance systems and targeting are very different than they were years ago. Yet, the fundamental configurations, or bom structures, somewhat stagnant, service, observers say.

Stutzriem, a former fighter pilot and current Director of Research for the Mitchell Institute, the cited research is now exploring precision bomb technology intended to pursue weapons technologies with more precision and “non-fixed income securities”

Current areas of research, according to the Mitchell Institute’s study, declare that, for decades, most of the bombs that were used in the ‘ fixed-explosive envelopes.” As a result, the current developers are looking for innovative methods for achieving increased lethality with precision and variable-yield—meaning bombs can be configured to size explosions depending on the purpose.

As a co-author of the Mitchell Institute study, Stutzriem characterized the investigation as an attempt to find broader explosive reach by means of a “combination of heat, blast and fragmentation.”

The development of what Air Force engineers call “flight selectability” is essential to these development efforts, such as enabling dynamic combat targeting to modify, while a plane is in the air. This can be done using a range of technologies for improved precision using the multi-mode energetics and specialized structures designed in the warhead itself, Col. Gary Haase, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), said at the AFA.

Also developers working on smart-fusing embedded in a weapon that an explosive range of a wide-area-effect to a reduced collateral damage effect, Stutzriem said Haase.

“The concept is to make selectable effects munitions capability in the cockpit,” Stutzriem explained.

These forms of technical progress, in which ammunition may be adjusted in flight, are inspiring a new way of thinking when it comes to the Concepts of Operations (CONOPS). Newer focus and the explosive yield variation, of course, changes the type of the attack missions are within the limits of the possible. For example, if a weapon can be configured for a greater or lower blast effect in the sky, a plane could fall more victims, more options or adjustments much more easily in the midst of the rapidly changing combat situations.

“There is a compelling need for a new arrangement of ammunition for extended effects,” says Haase.

Air Force bomb developers specifically cited, a promising weapon designed and includes many of these features; a flexible carbon fiber bomb called the BLU 129 is designed for the specific needs of low collateral damage. At the same time, the weapon is said that it is extremely deadly and is referred to as ” the world’s greatest sniper accuracy controlled area effects.

In an analysis of the weapon, Globalsecurity.org writes “the BLU-129/B is a 500lb bomb body that is made of carbon fiber, in place of the traditional steel. This 500lb bomb body will be united with JDAM tailkits, and eventually other weapon tailkits that the interface with the standard 500lb bomb shape of the body.”

Given the fact that the combat soldiers discovered more uses for the weapon stuff outside, it was originally built to do, the air force is now re-starting the production of the weapon.

“There are a limited number of this weapon, and we want to hold on to it for those missions just need that opportunity,” said Haase.

The BLU 129 is described as having of innovations, called “custom effects design” with a recorded lethal radius, and yet precise and considerable destructive power. “This allows for a much smaller size of the warhead with the same kill capability,” said Stutzriem. By extension, the BLU 129 facilitates non-fixed income securities resulting in a highly effective, but precise and more narrowly configured attacks.

Time-sensitive targeting, driven by a need for fast-moving ISR is also highlighted in the Mitchell Institute study, according to Dr. John S. Wilcox, Director of Ammunition for the AFRL. Wilcox explained that new weapons need to quicken the dead chain by enabling the attack pilots to make decisions faster and not to lose a moving target.

When considering the discussed difference between the aircraft modernization and new air-dropped bomb technology, the Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, Gen. Timothy Ray, said the new major platforms, such as the B-21 and the F-35 are designed with a specific spirit to create new weapons.

“The air force is to stay focused on weapons modernization,” Ray told a group of reporters at AFA.

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