It’s small but powerful.
The StormBreaker smart weapon weighs just over 200 pounds, and up to 20 can be fitted to fighter jets like the F-15E Strike Eagle. But their warheads, equipped with shaped charge jets, fragmentation and explosive charge effects, and an option for a delayed smart rocket, are powerful enough to defeat tanks.
“It’s having a big impact,” said Alison Howlett, director of the StormBreaker smart weapons program at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies company.
The precision, power and versatility of the smart weapon allow it to tackle a wide range of threats and scenarios.
âThe multi-effects warhead really separates this air-to-ground weapon from its predecessor and other ammunition in its class,â Howlett said.
Deployed on the F-15E, the StormBreaker smart weapon features a tri-mode seeker – which uses infrared imagery and millimeter-wave radar – to see through fog, smoke and rain as it glides 45 miles to strike both fixed and moving targets on land or at sea. The system can also use its semi-active laser guidance or GPS to hit targets. It is designed with the flexibility to tackle a variety of threats in any environment.
âThere are more possibilities for StormBreaker – options like adding propulsion or swapping the seeker depending on the mission. Hardware and software can cover a range of threats, âHowlett said. “It’s a very flexible weapon – one of a kind with world class technology.”
Another key advantage of the StormBreaker system is its networking capabilities. This means that one platform could launch it but transfer orders to another. This will be an important capability as the U.S. military aims to connect sensors, platforms and weapon systems in the traditional realms of land, air, sea and space.
âIt’s inherent in this weapon and absolutely essential for entering a more connected combat environment – JADC2 (Joint All Domain Command and Control) -â, said Howlett.
Raytheon Missiles & Defense used digital technologies (tools and processes) to develop StormBreaker.
âIt’s definitely a cutting edge weapon in terms of design and development and how we organize it for the future. He’s performing extremely well now and we’re just getting started, âHowlett said.
To verify system performance, the team uses an Integrated Flight Simulation, or IFS, and performs literally thousands of iterations in tandem with the Air Force using test data to continually improve simulation accuracy.
âThis allows us to find and resolve potential issues before real-world testing, reducing time and costs,â Howlett said.
The company also uses agile methods to deliver rapid capacity updates through software changes.
âEvery plane has unique software, so we have to make sure that we integrate properly with that software,â Howlett said.
Arming 4th and 5th Generation Hunters
In 2020, the Air Force cleared the system for use on the F-15E, making it the first aircraft to carry the weapon. After reaching this milestone, the Air Force and Raytheon Missiles & Defense dropped 14 StormBreaker smart weapons into the 2021 Weapon System Assessment Program. The successful assessment and tactical development paves the way for its use by combat air forces.
The F-15E can carry five groups of four StormBreaker smart weapons, for a total of 20 rounds. Depending on the mission, the F-15EX Strike Eagle II can carry more than 16 StormBreaker weapons.
The F / A-18E / F Super Hornet will be the second fighter jet to add the weapon when it reaches initial operational capability.
Raytheon Missiles & Defense integrates the StormBreaker weapon on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The very first StormBreaker ammunition drop test from an F-35 was conducted in late 2021 to test the communications link between the weapon and a secondary aircraft.