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Air Force Wants Steadier Production of Precision Bombs

The U.S. Air Force wants more, albeit steadier, production of precision-guided bombs.

The service is racing to buy more Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, as well as GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs, as the Pentagon grapples with a growing bomb shortage driven in part by the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force's military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition at the Pentagon, confirmed on Tuesday the Air Force is looking to acquire 45,000 new JDAM tail-kits -- which, via GPS, guide the bombs to their intended targets -- a jump from the current annual production level of 36,500 kits. Bloomberg News first reported the increase earlier this month.

And the Air Force also wants to know as soon as possible whether companies are short on technologies or processes to meet this goal, the service's top acquisition official said.

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"Weapons are a big focus area right now across the Department of Defense, particularly those that are precision-type that we are utilizing so much of in the fight around the world today," Bunch told audience members during an Air Force Association breakfast in Washington, D.C.

 

"We are taking a very holistic look at this -- it's not just the tail-kit, it's the bomb body, it's the energetics that go with it, it's all aspects of this," Bunch said. "So if you are in this industry and you are contributing to what is going into the weapons portfolio, and you believe you're running into issues based on production, or you're running into quality, we've got to know that really quickly."

The Air Force -- which flies more than half the sorties for Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the operation against ISIS -- in December 2015 revealed bomb stockpiles were decreasing in light of the air war that began the previous year.

The stockpiles were further strained when the joint force began sharing weapons with coalition partners engaged against the terrorist group in the Middle East, then-Lt. Gen. John Raymond, deputy chief of staff for operations at Headquarters Air Forces said at the time.

Now, the Air Force is on a path to produce 8,000 precision guided small diameter bomb packages per year, Bunch said.

"That's actually almost triple what we produce when we originally went on the contract to buy [them]," he said.

Bunch later told reporters the Air Force had over the years steadily increased production of SDBs to 5,000 and now again to 8,000.

For the next incremental JDAM increase, "what we really want to do with industry is, I don't want to have the throttle going full bore, back to idle, back to full bore, back to idle," Bunch said, referring to fluctuations in production.

"We want to make sure we provide industry a more stable area, even at a high rate," he said.

Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company, makes tail kits for both the GBU-39 and JDAM.

The general emphasized the Air Force doesn't want to increase to an even higher bar -- say, 55,000 JDAM bombs per year -- until the service and industry are confident they can meet the current production goals -- "make sure we can produce everything, make sure we have all the components, make sure we have the whole industrial base -- and then let's figure out if we want to go up."

Should the Pentagon overall need more bombs, the Air Force "can always readdress" the issue, Bunch said.

Additionally, Bunch said the Air Force is working with the Army to acquire additional AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and with the Navy on APKWS Laser-Guided Rocket.

Addressing industry once more, he said, "Again if you think you're running into issues, please let us know so [we can] … continue to work with all parties involved."

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