Science

MQ-9 Reaper Drops GBU-38 GPS-Guided JDAM Bombs in Combat for the First Time

By | May 10, 2017 07:13 AM EDT
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Into combat

GBU-38 JDAM (center) about to be unleashed by an MQ-9 Reaper in a test (Photo : USAF)

Barely a month after being cleared for operational use, GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) 500 lb (225 kg) smart bombs were accurately dropped on an ISIS target in Syria by a U.S. Air Force General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV).

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The first use of an MQ-9 to drop a JDAM occurred earlier this month and capped the much-delayed project to get this GPS precision guided munition added to the combat payload of the MQ-9, which is operated by the U.S. Air Force.

Col. Case Cunningham, commander of the 432nd Wing and 432nd Expeditionary Wing at Creech Air Base, confirmed the first combat drop of a GBU-38 by a Reaper.

The 432nd Wing operates UAVs and UCAVs, and provides real-time reconnaissance, surveillance and precision attack against fixed and time-critical targets. The 432d Air Expeditionary Wing is a provisional unit assigned to Air Combat Command and is the designation for components of the 432nd Wing when deployed into combat areas as part of the Global War on Terror.

Technical issues and testing delays were to blame for the delayed deployment of the GBU-38 aboard the MQ-9 Reaper fleet. Testing finally ended early this year and deployment of the JDAM followed soon afterwards.

The GBU-38 JDAM is basically a 500 lb general purpose, gravity bomb (or a "dumb bomb") that's been transformed into a precision guided, all-weather "smart" munition by the addition of a bolt-on guidance tail kit.

This kit consists of a tail section with aerodynamic control surfaces; a (body) strake kit and a combined inertial navigation system (INS) coupled to a Global Positioning System (GPS) guidance control unit.

JDAM-equipped bombs range from 500 pounds (227 kg) to 2,000 pounds (907 kg).

GBU-38 is a very accurate weapon despite being dropped a long distance from its target. With both INS and GPS, it has a circular error probable (CEP) ranging from 9 to 13 meters. Once released from the aircraft, a JDAM autonomously navigates to the designated target coordinates.

GBU-38 can be released in day or night, in good and adverse weather at up to 15 miles away from a target. It small size makes possible for an aircraft armed with GBU-38s to attack multiple targets simultaneously.

GBU-38 is the only JDAM the MQ-9 Reaper can deploy.

 "The overall impact of the GBU-38 is aircrew will have more versatility for the commanders to provide different effects and make a difference for the guys on the ground," said Capt. Scott, a 26th WPS weapons instructor pilot.

"It has a different guidance system and it opens the bridge to more GPS-guided weapons in the future."


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