Integration Key to StormBreaker Export Drive
The all-weather, precision-guided bomb is nearing operational use on the F-15E, and integration work on a raft of other platforms is gathering pace.
“We finished operational test on the F-15E,” says Raytheon’s program director Cristy Stagg. “The customer is imminent at declaring the Required Assets Available, or RAA, milestone. That is the acquisition community basically telling the operational community that the required assets are available to go ahead and field the weapon. Right now the government is on track to field the weapon in the spring time frame of this year. So we are just around the corner of a pretty exciting time with the weapon being able to be ready for operational use.”
RAA, which Stagg says will mark formal completion of Raytheon’s development contract, requires delivery of the first lot of production units.
“Our Lot 1 units – 144 assets – were delivered to the air force a while back,” she says, noting that the company is currently manufacturing Lot 3. “While we have delivered quite a few more assets than the minimum that defines the RAA milestone, there are other things beyond just the weapons being available – things like training, logistics and a bunch of support-type functions – that wrap up the total package.”
By the time the weapon is flying operationally on the F-15E, Raytheon will be well advanced on work to integrate StormBreaker onto the F-35 and the F/A-18E/F. Stagg says that while the integration is in “early phases,” the weapon has flown on both F-35 and the Super Hornet: the latter and the B and C variant F-35s are flying it at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, while the weapon has flown on the F-35A at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The global nature of the F-35 user base makes it a platform of particular importance and interest to a program such as StormBreaker. While declining to discuss specific overseas customers, Stagg confirms that “all the FMS countries that are purchasing the F-35 have expressed interest” in the weapon.
“We don’t have a priority list of countries,” she says, “but the countries purchasing the F-35 [are] public knowledge. And I can say that one of the reasons why both us and the government have been really interested in integrating on the F-35 is to enable sales to those countries.”
Further platforms are also in the frame for the weapon. Raytheon describes these as “objective” platforms, as opposed to the “threshold” platforms already under contract. “There’s a lot of international and domestic interest in integration on F-16, C-130 and MQ-9,” says Steve Milano, senior program manager. “Those are some of the near-terms, but StormBreaker actually has an expansive list of objective platforms we’re looking to integrate on.”
The chicken-or-egg question – does integration only happen after a customer signs a contract to buy the weapon, or will export contracts only get signed once the weapon has been integrated onto a platform? – is one Raytheon looking at from both directions. “We can get licensing through the U.S. State Department to have conversations with independent nations prior to integration on a given aircraft,” Milano says. “For instance, we’re not integrated on F-16, but we may have a license to communicate with a foreign partner about the potential capability StormBreaker could bring to that aircraft.
“And we can begin integration on U.S. platforms that are also utilized heavily internationally,” he continues. “F-16 is one of the platforms where there’s huge interest in the capability, but funding may not be in the pipeline for the U.S. Air Force. So this year we’re investing a significant amount of our resources on F-16 integration.” Milano says Raytheon is also working with General Atomics on early work toward MQ-9 integration.
“We’re working with our partners at General Atomics to understand the complexities” of integration on the Reaper, he says. “It’s one of the more challenging platforms to integrate on. Their slower flight speed and the typically higher altitudes that they fly at are a challenge for multiple weapon systems.
“We’re not the only system that’s trying to integrate on the MQ-9 and running into similar challenges,” he adds.