The U.S. Air Force and more recently the U.S. Marine Corps have identified Raytheon’s GBU-49 as the quickest way to give the F-35 the ability to prosecute moving targets. Currently, the F-35’s ability to strike moving targets is somewhat limited, requiring the pilot to manually direct a GBU-12 to its destination.
The Air Force has since issued a request for information seeking details about precision-guided munitions that would allow the F-35 to hit moving targets — potentially broadening its search into a competition. However, Mike Jarrett, Raytheon’s vice president of air warfare systems, believes the service will ultimately opt to sole source the GBU-49 from Raytheon.
“We have the capability in our inventory today, and we don’t believe that anybody else does,” he said. “That’s the reason why we were able to do an accelerated integration. That’s why we convinced the services to put it in 3f,” the software for the F-35 when the aircraft reaches full operational capability.
The GBU-49 was designed with built-in “lead laser capability” that allows the bomb to calculate how far a target will move, an ability the F-35’s suite of weapons doesn’t have in its 3i configuration, or the current software that has been in use since the aircraft hit initial operational capability last year.
Integrating GBU-49 with the F-35 can be done within the “single digital months” because much of the necessary activities have already taken place. GBU-49’s interfaces are very similar to the dual-mode Paveway 4 — which has already been integrated on the joint strike fighter for the U.K. — and its size and flight characteristics are comparable to the GBU-12 that’s part of the F-35’s 3i weapons load. Much of the ground-based testing has already been completed by Raytheon and F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin, Jarrett explained.