GBU-15 gets all-weather capability

Mr. Jake Swinson, AAC Public Affairs
Leading Edge

Top Pentagon officials have again turned to the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to conduct a rapid-reaction effort to provide aircrews with a significantly new combat strike capability.

This time the Precision Strike Systems Program Office has been tasked to equip the GBU-15 air-to-surface weapon with Global Positioning System, or GPS, guidance giving it an all-weather capability.

The GBU-15 is one of the world’s most precise guided weapons and carries either a 2,000 pound MK-84 blast fragmentation or BLU-109 penetrating warhead. It is delivered to its target by F-15E aircraft and is currently guided by an optical television or infrared guidance system.

"The Air Staff and AAC asked me about a month ago to investigate the feasibility of giving the GBU-15 all weather capability," said Mr. Frank Robbins, director of the Precision Strike Systems Program Office. "After careful analysis with our technical team, I told our leadership that we could do it with high priority."

According to Mr. Robbins, on April 23, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force gave direction to proceed and provided initial operational assets within 45 days after receipt of funding.

"Congress gave us the nod on May 5, and that same day we signed a contract with Applied Sciences Engineering International of Niceville, Florida," he said. "A second contract was signed the next day with Raytheon Defense Systems of Tucson, Ariz."

The total quick reaction program including these two contracts and all government costs will total $7 million for the first phase of additional GPS guidance to the GBU-15.

"We were able to work with the two contractors to partner as a single team with one objective: to get the critical all-weather capability in the hands of the warfighter as soon as possible," Mr. Robbins said.

An unreleased quantity of the enhanced weapon is expected to be delivered to combat units by July 1. The two contractors’ concepts are different but proven and compatible with the F-15E.

A second phase will follow, said Mr. Robbins, during which the best concepts of both contractors will be adopted. They will then work as a team to upgrade an additional 1,200 to 1,500 GBU-15s. Congressional approval is expected soon for the second phase, which is expected to cost approximately $50 million.

"Essentially, this enhancement gives the warfighters the opportunity to release the weapon and have it fly autonomously under its own control all the way to the target, if he (the weapon systems officer) gets in an intense situation where he can’t focus on guiding the weapon," Mr. Robbins said. "Also, if the target is obscured by weather, the weapon system officer in the backseat of the F-15E can release the weapon and have it fly by GPS all the way to the target."

The GBU-15 is essentially an unpowered version of the AGM-130, which made its combat debut a few months ago. The GBU-15 was first used in combat in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War and quickly became a weapon of choice by allied pilots. However, it could not be used when clouds, sandstorms, smoke, etc., obscured the target.

The Air Force has more than 2,000 GBU-15s in its inventory. This modification will make the 1980’s vintage armament a weapon for the year 2000 and beyond.

Design, fabrication, ground tests and flight tests of the enhanced GBU-15 are currently being conducted at Eglin.

The close working relationship of Eglin’s 46th Test Wing and 53rd Wing is facilitating a rapid, simultaneous developmental and operational evaluation of these significant capability improvements to the GBU-15 prior to fielding.