Boeing aims to begin deliveries of kits to create gliding JDAM guided bombs starting in 2015, offering a cheap stand-off weapon that probably will be able to hit targets about 110 km (60 nm) away using a wing developed in Australia.

The weapon, called JDAM-ER, combines a new folding-wing kit with the familiar JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) guidance unit and 500-lb. Mk. 82 bomb. The wing makes little difference to the mass and dimensions of the weapon, says the Australian defense department. It offers a cheap alternative to powered stand-off missiles for some missions and will first go into service with the Royal Australian Air Force.

The range of JDAM-ER is classified and depends on the launch conditions and commanded trajectory. Boeing says it can fly more than 64 km, but data from a predecessor program suggests it can fly much further.

Glide bombs have well-known limitations, however. The launch aircraft must expose itself by flying high if the bomb is to go far, and the weapon’s sedate gliding speed gives alert defenders a long time to react.

Despite its obviously wide applications, the JDAM-ER program has received little attention. Its existence has not been secret — indeed, it roots go back to an Australian development effort that began in the 1980s — but until now the Australians and Boeing have said little about it.

Australia contracted Boeing last year to build and integrate the wing kits based on a design developed by the department’s Defense Science & Technology Organization. The U.S. company is working with local manufacturers to initiate production.

The kits will be used first on Australia’s Boeing Hornet and Super Hornet fighters, but the market is obviously much wider. “The wing kit does not significantly increase the weapon’s mass or size, so JDAM-ER can potentially be used with any platform that carries JDAM,” says a spokesperson for the Australian defense department. According to a Boeing executive in Australia, Bill Profilet, several countries already have expressed keen interest in buying the wing kit.

One country with an obvious need for a cheap stand-off weapon, South Korea, will presumably not be a buyer. A manufacturer there, Times Aerospace Korea, is working separately with Boeing on a wing kit for 2,000-lb. bombs fitted with JDAM.

Like the JDAM guidance and control units, the wing kits will be fitted at air bases, creating JDAM-ERs as required. The simple field support equipment of JDAM is retained and the winged bomb uses the same interface with the aircraft.

“In one of its land-attack modes, the target coordinates from the mission planning system are transferred to JDAM-ER,” says the spokesperson in a written response to Aviation Week’s questions. “In flight, the acceptable launch range is displayed to the pilot. After weapon release, the wings are deployed and JDAM-ER glides to the target following an optimized flight profile. Impact parameters can be commanded to maximize the effectiveness of the bomb.” Those “impact parameters” presumably can include a final steep dive for penetrating hardened or buried targets.

Although the Australian work is based on the Mk. 82, the department says the technology can be scaled to different sizes of bombs and to other, unspecified weapons. “… There is potential to augment JDAM-ER with low-cost seeker systems to engage ships and moving land-based targets,” it adds.

Data from a the preceding Australian program, Kerkanya, suggest an ideal maximum range of about 150 km when launched from 9,100 meters (30,000 ft.) altitude, but Australian defense analyst Carlo Kopp thinks about 110 km is likely to be a practicable range. The more the bomb turns, the shorter the distance it will fly.

“The extended range provides operational flexibility, such as prosecuting more targets on a single pass and attacking off-axis targets,” the spokesperson says.