CORRECTS: Attribution to Col. Joe
UPDATED: 432 Wing Commander Wants GBU-54 Next
CREECH AIR FORCE BASE: The Air Force has added the Joint Direct Attack Munition (GBU-38) a GPS-guided bomb, to the Reaper drone force, dropping the first one in a combat strike in Operation Inherent Resolve on Thursday.
Lt. Col. David, director of the Creech Wing Operations Center, told me in a Friday morning interview that the weapon had been used for the first time roughly a week after a final test drop. (We were allowed to quote him on the condition we didn’t publish his last name). Col. Case Cunningham, the 432 Wing Commander here, tweeted this morning that the strike was an “historic milestone.” This expands the aircraft’s weapons mix of Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 Paveway II bombs. The use of the JDAM marks a potentially important expansion of the drone’s combat capability, pushing it closer to the weapons mix — though not the capacity — of a so-called fast mover fighter like the F-16 or F-15.
The GBU-38 can be
either guided to the target or dropped on pre-programmed coordinates. The Paveway is guided to the target. UPDATE BEGINS It also has a selectable fuze, the wing operations commander Col. Joe told me in an interview the next day (we agreed not to use last names for security reasons). “I can tell it I want a delayed fuze of this length,” he told me an in interview in his office here. “I can target the third floor of an apartment building, or we could target an enemy vehicle, or we could target enemy personnel in the open all with the same weapon, because I know I can adjust the fuze with this weapon and I just don’t have that option with the GBU-12.” The GBU-38 is “also more useful in cloudy weather” because it uses coordinates and is not laser guided.
But GBU-38 just isn’t enough and three days after the GBU-38 was first dropped in combat, Col. Joe told me he was already on the phone pressing to get the GBU-54, which would allow pilots to guide the weapon in to a target with a laser seeker. Boeing has installed a new nose on the 500-pound weapon and the Reaper commander asked “when can we get permission to use it.” It will require a “relatively simple” software update but Joe believes the more important issue is getting the weapon cleared by the test community. He wants the GBU-54 “by the end of the year.” UPDATE ENDS
Given the great and recent expansion in the use of the Reaper for danger-close Close Air Support (CAS) missions in Syria and Iraq, adding another guided munition to the mix should increase the ability to strike better protected targets and keep collateral damage to buildings and people as low as possible. In Libya, some 70 percent of the Reaper strikes were danger-close, meaning US, allied and coalition forces were so close together any strike carries with it a higher chance of killing or wounding friendly forces, Lt. Col. David noted.