The U.S. Air Force has awarded a nearly $60 million contract to Raytheon Co. to integrate a new laser-guided smart bomb -- the GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II -- onto the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.
The contract includes 1,200 guidance kits for the munition -- designed to strike moving targets -- as well as test hardware, logistics and engineering support and technical data, the Air Force said in a release on Friday.
"The F-35 is operational and combat ready, and integrating the GBU-49 with the aircraft makes the F-35 even more lethal than it already is," Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury, director of the Air Force F-35 Integration Office, said in the release.
Raytheon's Paveway II would enable the F-35 to strike moving targets when integrated with the aircraft's software Block 3F, which is scheduled to be incorporated onto the aircraft in 2018.
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The software will enable the aircraft to effectively "search, detect, track, ID and engage multiple stationary and moving surface targets in clear and adverse weather," members of the F-35 Joint Program Office told Defense News in March.
Officials anticipate the GBU-49 will fill a capability gap in the Joint Strike Fighter until GPS-guided joint direct attack munitions, or JDAMS, and laser-designated Small Diameter Bomb II munitions can be integrated in future software releases.
Flight testing of the GBU-49 with the F-35A is scheduled to begin this month. The Air Force will receive the initial 400 guidance kits by the end of January, the release said.
"This contract award represents great teaming across the entire government and industry enterprise," said Brig. Gen. Anthony Genatempo, Air Force program executive officer for weapons.
A dozen F-35s are currently deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan, as part of the first-ever F-35A theater security package, or TSP, which are forward-deployed aircraft units that conduct missions to reassure partner and ally forces and to maintain security and stability across a region.
In April, the Air Force dispatched a handful of F-35As overseas to Europe for several weeks in the aircraft's first training deployment to the continent.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.