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In a training flight over South Korea earlier this month, a U.S. Air Force Block 30 F-16C fighter drops two precision-guided "smart bombs" on a target range on Chik-Do Island. The Block 30's of the 80th Fighter Squadron out of Kunsan Air Base were recently fitted with the gear necessary to make use of the smart bombs, called JDAM, or Joint Direct Attack Munition.
In a training flight over South Korea earlier this month, a U.S. Air Force Block 30 F-16C fighter drops two precision-guided "smart bombs" on a target range on Chik-Do Island. The Block 30's of the 80th Fighter Squadron out of Kunsan Air Base were recently fitted with the gear necessary to make use of the smart bombs, called JDAM, or Joint Direct Attack Munition. (Courtesy of USAF)

TAEGU, South Korea — A U.S. Air Force fighter wing in South Korea has doubled its ability to drop high-tech “smart” bombs.

The bombs pinpoint targets without being aimed by the pilot and are the same type used in the April 7 air strike against what was thought to have been Saddam Hussein’s bunker in Baghdad.

A recent high-tech equipment upgrade means all F-16 fighters in Kunsan Air Base’s 8th Fighter Wing can now attack targets with the JDAM, or joint direct attack munition, said 1st Lt. Herb McConnell, a wing spokesman.

Until recently, only one of the wing’s squadrons had been fitted with the gear needed to employ JDAMs.

Upgrades were completed recently to the F-16Cs of the wing’s 80th Fighter Squadron, which flies the aircraft’s Block 30 variant. The wing’s other combat unit, the 35th Fighter Squadron, got the upgrade about a year ago. It flies the Block 40 variant.

Pilots simply feed the target’s map coordinates into the JDAM’s inboard computer, release the bomb, and fly off, a process known as “fire and forget,” said Lt. Col. Eric Schnitzer, the 80th’s commanding officer.

The bomb’s high-tech gear finds those coordinates with the help of global positioning satellites, and homes in on the target, he said.

“The big benefit is, you can’t hide now,” said Schnitzer. “We can strike it all-weather, we can strike it day-night, we can strike it if you try to put up a smokescreen, we can strike it if you try and hide it in a place that’s not easy for us to pick out.”

Both squadrons already had the ability to use other types of high-tech munitions, like laser-guided bombs.

Schnitzer made a July 2 practice flight dropping two JDAMs on a bombing range on South Korea’s Chik-Do Island. The inert training bombs don’t explode. Both went straight to their targets, Schnitzer said.

“What really sets it apart is, it has its own navigation system in the bomb,” said Schnitzer. “Basically what that bomb is doing is going toward the set of coordinates we told it to, which means I don’t have to actually look at the target for the bomb to hit near-precision.”

Schnitzer’s squadron would have eventually been fitted with the gear needed to drop JDAMs.

But they got it early thanks to the Iraqi war, said Schnitzer.

Loading a JDAM is little different from loading other bombs, said Staff Sgt. Dane Bressler of the 80th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. The JDAM takes maybe 45 to 50 minutes, some 15 minutes longer than other types because its smart-bomb technology requires a special cable hookup.

Schnitzer became the first active-duty U.S. Air Force pilot to drop a JDAM from a Block 30 on July 2.

That’s something Bressler’s crew didn’t know when they loaded Schnitzer’s aircraft the night before.

“We had no idea…until the next day,” said Senior Airman Ian Owens, part of Bressler’s crew. “The only instruction we were given by our boss was, ‘Hey, there’s two JDAMs that have to be loaded.’ We just did it as we would normally do it when we train.”

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