Boeing has completed the first round of tests of the latest variant of its precision bomb kit, the Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range (JDAM-ER). Developed in partnership with the Australian government, the winged bomb kit finished its first wind tunnel tests in the United States and is one step closer to production and entering service with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
If you watch old newsreels of Second World War bombing raids, they usually include planes dropping bombs by the bushel. The irony is that most of the time all those explosives aren’t being dropped to destroy everything in sight, but in hopes of hitting anything at all. That’s because the bombs in those grainy black and white films were “dumb” bombs that fell wherever gravity and the wind carried them. No matter how good the bombsight used to put them on target, hitting it was largely a matter of luck.
During the Cold War, that began to change with the introduction of guided bombs using television cameras, lasers, radio control and other devices. They were an improvement, but they were also incredibly expensive and temperamental, so up until the Gulf War in 1991 most bombs were still dumb.
After the Gulf War, the American Pentagon realized that it needed an air-to-surface weapon that could work in all conditions. Over the next decade, US defense contractors worked to fill this gap and the result was the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) now manufactured by Boeing. This wasn’t a new weapon, but a way of giving dumb bombs more intelligence. It’s a kit that is bolted on to standard bombs. Using guiding fins and a GPS-aided inertial navigation system, a JDAM-equipped bomb can land within 13 meters (42.65 ft) of its target. Since it’s a retrofit, it’s also relatively cheap at US$27,000 a unit. So far, 238,000 tail kits have been made and it’s used by 26 countries.
Boeing’s JDAM-Extended Range (JDAM-ER) is the latest variant. It is intended for use on the RAAF’s 500-pound (226.79 kg) bombs and will be built in Australia. It differs from the standard JDAM in that is has wings that unfold in flight to triple the range from 15 nautical miles (17.26 mi, 28 km) to over 40 miles (64.73 km). The modular nature of the kit means that it can be easily upgraded as technology improves and options such as improved laser sensors, GPS jamming immunity and an all-weather radar sensor can be added.
"By successfully transitioning this technology from prototype to production, the Australian Defence Force will be able to further reduce the risk to its personnel on operations, allowing RAAF aircrew to engage their targets from beyond the range of enemy air defences," said Jason Clare, Australia’s Minister for Defence Materiel. "These enhancements will increase the ability of the RAAF to strike more targets in fewer sorties."
The first JDAM-ER kits are scheduled for delivery in early 2015.