Airman Magazine
June 2001

Joint direct attack munition gives aging B-52 bomber more clout

by Master Sgt. Louis A. Arana-Barradas, photos by Tech. Sgt. Scott Wagers

During Desert Storm, Maj. Mark Harysch was a bright-eyed first lieutenant. A B-52 co-pilot. He was well-trained, ready and eager to drop bombs.

He did just that in February 1991. Taking off after dark, he and his crew joined an armada of Stratofortresses bound for a bombing mission over Iraq. The 12 “Buffs” — short for “big ugly fat fellows” — were loaded for bear.

Their target was a Taji fabrication plant 30 miles north of Baghdad. That’s where Saddam Hussein was making parts for long-range missiles and rockets. A definite U.N. no-no.

It was the height of the Desert Storm air war. The Air Force ruled the skies and was giving Iraq the mother of all poundings.

“That night we dropped more than 288,000 pounds of munitions on the target,” he said. After the “bombs away” over the plant, they hightailed it back to base.

The B-52s dropped conventional bombs on that carpet-bombing raid. Just like B-17 Flying Fortresses did over Germany 50 years before. Scratch one plant.

Seven years later, the plant was back online. During Operation Desert Fox, it was also back on the target list. But this time in took just six Buffs — launching cruise missiles — to smash it. The bombers didn’t have to get close.

“Today we could do the same job with one B-52 carrying a dozen JDAMs,” said Harysch, 23rd Bomb Squadron weapons and tactics chief at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. “And we don’t have to fly as close to the target.”

JDAM, for joint direct attack munition, was born from a Desert Storm shortfall. During the war, the Air Force found it needed a bomb to drop in any weather with near-precision. One that could hit within 30 feet of a target. Almost like laser-guided bombs, minus the high price tag.

The right bomb
The answer was JDAM, a state-of-the-art upgrade kit that turns free-falling “dumb” bombs into guided, “smart” ones using inertial navigation and global positioning systems.

This gives the aging Buffs of Minot’s 5th Bomb Wing more clout, said Col. Dick Newton, commander. The unit is the first B-52 wing Air Combat Command certified to drop the bomb.

“With JDAM we bring a near-precision, all-weather, day or night capability to the fight,” he said. That allows B-52s to join B-1 Lancers and B-2 Spirits in the long-range arsenal.

B-52s with JDAMs give joint forces commanders massive firepower, he said. And more flexibility with a combination of weapons capable of hitting several targets on one mission.

With cruise missiles or laser-guided bombs, the aircraft has a long standoff fighting range. That means facing fewer enemy defenses.

But if a mission calls for penetrating enemy defenses or homelands, Newton said, “We can do that up front and personal with JDAM.”

JDAMs give bombers a short standoff launch range. Crews can launch bombs from their aircraft’s wing pylons at 40,000 feet, up to 15 miles from a target and still have near-precision accuracy. A plus when the bad guys shoot back.

The added operational clout JDAM gives the B-52 confirms it will continue to play a key role in the 21st century, Newton said [See “BUFF and Tough” ].

“Who knows what the future may call for us to do,” he said. “But whatever the scenario or situation, we’re a more powerful fighting force because of JDAM.”

That’s good for the Air Force, which plans to keep the bomber on the front lines through 2040, he said. Almost a century after the first eight-engine bomber flew.

All abuzz
So JDAM is the buzzword at Minot. It’s one more conventional arrow in the wing’s quiver, and allows the unit to fly more diverse missions.

That’s key since the big thrust today is attacking time-critical targets — or emerging targets — over areas with few defensive threats. “Or [in airspace] that’s friendly to our aircraft,” said Maj. Kirk Weissenfluh, wing JDAM project officer.

Because of the bomb’s satellite-aided guidance system, B-52s can “hang out” — loiter — in an area until they receive target identification — instead of waiting at home base.

“We can switch targets in flight and program our bombs to hit them,” he said. Then crews “launch and leave,” letting the navigation system guide the bombs to the targets.

Wing crews are ready to drop the JDAM, Newton said, “Anywhere in the world in hours.”

But before the wing received the OK in December 2000 to drop the bomb, it had a lot of work to do. Loads of learning and training — more than two years’ worth, to be exact. That took a team effort, Newton said.

Planners began working in November 1998. They reviewed the wing to ensure it had the resources needed to become JDAM-ready. They ordered the aircraft parts, support equipment and training devices. That included wing pylons for the bombers, software, bomb tail kits and test equipment.

Aircrews learned to use the software — a new baseline standard — to drop the bombs. Maintainers learned to work on pylons that hold the bombs. And munitions troops learned to build the bombs.

Then early in February 2000 the wing tested the software at a Red Flag exercise. The final test came when a B-52 dropped four of the bombs at the vast Utah Test and Training Range — on target.

“We’d gone through a realistic trial period. Our crews knew how to use the software. And our planes were set to carry the bombs,” Weissenfluh said. “We were ready.”

As airmen at Minot continue to hone their JDAM skills, other Buff units will benefit. Those at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., will take advantage of what Minot airmen learned gearing up for JDAM. The lessons learned will make their transition much easier.

“We laid the foundation, worked out the bugs,” Newton said. “Soon we’ll be one team again.”

The makeover
What about the bomb? What’s so special about it? It looks much like most bombs, except for the added fins. It starts as a 1,000-pound or 2,000-pound dumb bomb. The $18,000 JDAM conversion kit gives it a higher IQ.

A tail section, bolted onto the bomb, makes up most of the kit. Inside is a guidance control unit with inertial navigation and global positioning systems. A connection runs to a small electric motor that controls the tail’s three movable fins.

Strapped to the bomb are strakes, like fins. They help give it lift. From the guidance unit, an “umbilical” cord of wires plugs the bomb into the Buff’s computers.

The whole kit weighs less than 100 pounds. It’s easy to lift and install. And a four-member bomb-building crew can master the upgrade in less than a day.

“It takes about 10 minutes to build a JDAM,” said Airman 1st Class Brandi Coleman, an “ammo” troop with the 5th Munitions Squadron. “It’s not a hard job.”

That’s a plus in a crisis, she said. “You won’t get much time to turn a bomber for its next mission. JDAM gives you more time.”

Once built, it takes a four-member crew to load the bombs on the plane’s wing-mounted pylon. Each Buff carries 12, six on each wing.

Though they weigh more than 2,000 pounds each with the added tail, loading them isn’t such a tough job, said Tech. Sgt. Craig Brown. A bomb loader and weapons team chief with the 23rd Bomb Squadron, he said it takes about 10 minutes to load each bomb.

At Minot the toughest part of the job is loading bombs in frigid winters, Brown said. Other than that, he said his troops strive to do the best, fastest and safest load possible.

“We just want to load them right, so they’ll drop when they’re supposed to,” he said.

Harysch said JDAM is a force multiplier. A bomb the Air Force needs. Its accuracy will cut the collateral damage dumb bombs cause. And it’ll extend the life of the B-52 he loves to fly.

“One day we’ll put these tail kits on just about every bomb we drop,” he said. “You can bet on it.”