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Air Force News

Lightning Bolts strike over Yugoslav skies

Released: 19 May 1999


by Senior Master Sgt. Jim Katzaman
Air Force Print News

WASHINGTON -- Few people can toil all day, go home, turn on the television and watch on the evening news the result of their hard work half a world away.

For Tech. Sgt. Brian Caton, Airman Shaun Do nohue and other ammo builders in the 509th Maintenance Squadron, such working and watching has been an everyday practice since Operation Allied Force began March 24.

Unlike other bomb specialists working on aircraft close to the theater of operations, the 509th MS airmen pull duty at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., almost 15 hours as the B-2 flies from Kosovo.

They also build the most modern of precision-guided bombs: Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The 2,000-pound bombs have drawn rave reviews both for their comparatively low cost and reliability for hitting their targets. The payload's success begins as the bomb builders assemble a most complex munition.

A JDAM is actually a guidance kit that converts existing unguided free-fall bombs into precision-guided "smart" munitions. Builders such as Sergeant Caton and Airman Donohue add a new tail section containing an inertial navigational system and a Global Positioning System guidance-control unit.

"While I can't say that building a JDAM is any easier than any other bomb," Sergeant Caton said, "it does require less torque than most conventional bombs. That helps us get a pretty good system going in a short time."

It takes 30 minutes to convert each "dumb" bomb into a smart bomb. Ten technicians work for four hours to build a load of 16 JDAMs for an awaiting B-2. The munitions make the bomber especially lethal as the only all-weather weapon system for Allied Force strikes.

JDAMs also reduce risk to B-2 pilots because the bombs can be dropped from the aircraft from up to 15 miles from the target. The inertial navigational system, using updates from the GPS, helps guide the bomb to the target via movable tail fins. Immediately after release, the aircraft can retreat because all guidance from that point on is independent.

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