Norway has announced it has selected Raytheon’s GBU-53/B StormBreaker precision guided bomb to equip the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters.
Designed to be carried in the F-35As’ internal weapons bay, the StormBreaker is a 250lb tri-mode glide weapon that can be used to destroy fixed or mobile targets. An F-35A can carry eight StormBreakers and two AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles internally, and additional weapons externally if required.
“We see StormBreaker as an essential component in achieving the full operational capability of our F-35 fleet,” Brig. Gen. Sigurd Fongen, head of the F-35 project office, Norwegian Defence Staff said in a July 17 statement. “The weapon will bring significant capability against stationary and moving targets at stand-off ranges, further enhancing the Norwegian Air Force’s ability to maintain national and regional security alongside our allies.”
Originally called the Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II), the StormBreaker was first fielded on the US Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle in late 2020, and has since been cleared to be employed from the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. StormBreaker is programmed to be integrated with the F-35A as part of the JSF Block 4 upgrade which is expected to be rolled out from 2023/24.
The 1.75m long GBU-53/B features folding wings and tail fins. The weapon is employed with initial guidance provided by a GPS/INS, and the tri-mode seeker with millimetre-wave radar, infrared homing, and semi-active laser homing guides the weapon in the terminal phase, allowing it to autonomously detect targets such as aircraft shelters, C2 nodes, air defence systems, and mobile targets such as small boats or vehicles in adverse weather conditions, and through dust and smoke haze. A datalink provides an opportunity to re-target the weapon in flight, and to provide instant bomb-damage assessment (BDA).
More than 1,100 StormBreakers a year are currently being produced by Raytheon for US and allied air forces. Australia was approved by the US State Department to buy up to 3,900 GBU-53/B in 2017 as part of its wider Project AIR 6000 Phase 3 weapons and countermeasures systems project for its F-35A and F/A-18F fleets, although it is unclear if this has proceeded to contract, possibly as a foreign military sales (FMS) component of a wider US DoD buy.