US Military Technology


Senior member
Dec 4, 2017
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Senior member
Nov 30, 2017
Speed Kills: The danger of rushing weapons into production

The Pentagon is on speed, and has been for years. Its rush to accelerate assembly lines has led to escalating costs, blown schedules and weapons unable to perform as advertised. That’s the bottom line in the Government Accountability Office’s 18th annual report into how the U.S. Department of Defense buys its weapons.

The average cost of major Pentagon weapons has jumped by 54% since they began. That $628 billion overrun is largely “unrelated to the increase in quantities purchased,” the GAO says. And they are assigned to fighting forces more than two years late. “DOD continues to look for ways to deliver systems as fast as possible,” the congressional watchdog agency says. “Until DOD can reconcile gaps in the ambitious schedules that programs promise with the incomplete knowledge they have attained, its ability to accelerate the speed at which it delivers capabilities remains in jeopardy.”

Congress and the Pentagon have teamed up to speed up slo-mo military procurement (the Air Force has been trying for nearly 20 years to replace its aging aerial tankers; the Army has taken just as long seeking a Bradley Fighting Vehicle replacement). But such efforts tend to fail because the U.S. military is rarely interested in good-enough. It wants top-flight programs like the F-35 fighter and the Zumwalt-class destroyer, which it then sabotages by rushing them into production before the blueprints are dry.

Why the rush? The haste seems particularly vexing, given that the U.S. has been mired in wars against insurgents and second-tier opponents since 9/11 (Afghanistan, lost; Iraq, tie). Toss in Vietnam (lost), or Korea (tie), if you want to get all historical about it. For those keeping score at home, that works out to a 0-2-2 record. (And when you’re a superpower, a tie counts as a loss.)

But the Pentagon is forever telling lawmakers, salivating over the prospect of well-paying defense-plant jobs in their districts, that they must fund such sophisticated gold-plated silver bullets now: “We have to put the pedal to the metal and pay the piper because who knows when [INSERT CURRENT TOP PROSPECTIVE FOE HERE] is going to strike!”

Yesterday it was the Soviet Union, today it’s China, and who knows who it will be tomorrow. It’s the closest thing yet to a perpetual-commotion machine that humans have invented.


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
U.S. Tests ‘Game Changing’ StormBreaker Bomb
Raytheon this week announced that an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet had successfully launched its StormBreaker smart glide bomb for the first time. The Super Hornet and F-15E Eagle will carry the weapon when it becomes fully operational later this year, with integration with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter expected soon.

A bomb test with an explosion

Test of GBU-53 multi-mode warhead

The GBU-53/B StormBreaker is far more capable than existing smart bombs, thanks to an advanced millimeter wave radar seeker combined with an infrared sensor. It can copy existing weapons like the JDAM, which hits pre-programmed GPS coordinates, or Paveway, which homes in on a target designated with a laser spot. But what makes it special is a new mode in which StormBreaker glides up to 45 miles to the target area, then finds and attacks targets without human assistance. It can hit moving vehicles such as tanks, even in bad weather, smoke or total darkness. StormBreaker was previously known as the SDB II, or Small Diameter Bomb II.

"We call SDB II a game changer because the weapon doesn't just hit GPS coordinates; it finds and engages targets," Mike Jarrett, Raytheon Air Warfare Systems vice president, stated in a 2018 press release. The weapon has been under development since 2010.

StormBreaker is small – just under 250 pounds – so large numbers can be packed on to an aircraft. An F-15E will be able to carry 28 StormBreakers, and an F-35 up to 24. Future plans call for it to be deployed on the B-52, B-1B and B-2 bombers which carry much larger bombloads – the B-1B can carry 96 of the similar-sized SDB-1.

The name and the concept behind StormBreaker are reminiscent of DARPA’s 1980’s Assault Breaker, which aimed to annihilate Soviet armor formations with a rain of ‘brilliant’ anti-tank munitions. These were envisioned to be smarter than smart bombs, being able to scan the battlefield and find Russian tanks on their own. The technology was not mature enough for Assault Breaker, but 30 years on, a small number of aircraft dropping StormBreakers could wipe out battalion-sized tank units from outside the range of air defenses.

StormBreaker’s sensor combination and smart algorithms can analyze and classify a range of target vehicles, picking out the highest priority target. The weapon maintains communication with the launch aircraft and can be retargeted in flight. The warhead was redesigned during development to provide a combination of blast, fragmentation and armor-piercing effects making it deadly to tanks, buildings, and people.

A winged glide bomb

Raytheon's GBU-53/B StormBreaker

Hitting large number of targets simultaneously is a challenge, as there is a risk that every StormBreaker in the area will home in on the same prominent high-value target, leaving all other targets unharmed. Things may move too fast, and bandwidth may not be sufficient, for human operators to control many weapons at once. The Air Force's Golden Horde program aims to overcome this by ‘networked collaborative autonomy’ – combining multiple weapons like StormBreaker into a single entity or swarm in flight. This swarm can follow an attack plan known as a Playbook and react to new targets or threats.

While StormBreaker might be used like any other smart bomb against insurgents – singly and under direct guidance – in more desperate situations, such as a conflict with a peer or near-peer, commanders may resort to the automated mode. Mark Gubrud, Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control says such highly automated weapon system brings new dangers.

“Having a weapon system that you believe can ingress to denied territory and carry out a search-and-destroy mission may incline you to attempt such a mission with a risk of error and escalation,” says Gubrud.

Thus, an attempt to quickly stem what might look like a surprise attack with a rain of StormBreakers might backfire and lead to a full-scale conflict which neither side wants. When one button push can have that sort effect, commanders may need to exercise caution.

StormBreaker could be a tremendously powerful capability when fielded in large numbers; a swarm of them might even count as a WMD. But until its strengths and weaknesses are fully established it should not be treated as a silver bullet to vanquish all opposition.
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