High above enemy territory, it drops from the wing of a fighter jet into the black, cloudy night.
Its wings and tail fins extend, and it glides steadily for miles, able to see through a haze of dust and smoke hanging thick in the air. It is headed toward a target the pilot can’t see, but that doesn’t matter, because it can see that target perfectly.
It is the StormBreaker smart weapon.
The U.S. Air Force has cleared the StormBreaker weapon for use on the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft after Raytheon Missiles & Defense wrapped up a series of test and integration activities.
“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,” said Cristy Stagg, StormBreaker program director at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a business of Raytheon Technologies.
Guided, gliding and precise
StormBreaker’s reach is long and its punch powerful—it can hit moving, armored targets from more than 40 miles away—but what really sets the guided weapon apart is its seeker.
Its multimode seeker includes a millimeter-wave radar to “see” targets in adverse weather, imaging infrared for target discrimination and semi-active laser to track an airborne laser or one on the ground. The laser works in addition to or with GPS and inertial navigation system guidance.
The system was built small, so fighter jets could carry more of them. For example, the F-15 can carry seven groups of four StormBreaker smart weapons, for a total of 28 munitions.
It was also built smart, with a datalink that allows the pilot to change targets even as the weapon glides toward the ground. And it is precise, with a small explosive footprint to keep collateral damage to a minimum.
“With its multimode seeker and datalink, StormBreaker will make adverse weather irrelevant,” Stagg said.
The U.S. Navy is expected to achieve initial fielding of StormBreaker on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft in late 2020, as the Air Force continues integration on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.