The Air Force Is Developing Smart Bombs With ‘Torpedo-Like’ Ship Killing Capability

The costs of converting existing GBU-31/Bs into these maritime strike versions could very be lower than fielding an all-new anti-ship weapon. If a multi-mode seeker is indeed one of the modifications, these bombs could also offer additional flexibility against other targets beyond ships, as well.

Of course, it remains to be seen how close any modified precision-guided bomb can actually get to the anti-ship killing capability of torpedos, which have the added benefit of being able to deliver their destructive force to a ship well below the waterline. This creates completely different kinds of damage control issues for the target’s crew compared to what one could expect to see after above-the-water-line strikes. It could be hard for any bomb to reliably hit areas of the ship’s hull under the waves, if at all. 

Still, a 2,000-pound class bomb could still do an immense amount of damage to a ship, even in the case of a near-miss. Leveraging the armor-piercing and delayed detonation capabilities found on bunker-buster versions of the GBU-31/B could further increase its effectiveness in the maritime strike role, allowing the bomb to penetrate into a ship before exploding.

Regardless, it’s not at all surprising that the Air Force would be exploring various ways to increase its anti-ship capabilities, especially as the U.S. military’s attention, as a whole, has shifted to preparing potential for a potential major conflict against a near-peer adversary, such as Russia or China. China, in particular, has become a major focus area, as has the possibility of a large-scale war in the Pacific region, which would be a heavily maritime-centric fight.

The Air Force has already been expanding its maritime capabilities, particularly on its bombers, in recent years. This includes the integration of the AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) cruise missile onto the B-1B bomber and the addition of new air-dropped naval mines to the B-52H’s arsenal. Last year, General David Goldfein, then-Chief of Staff the Air Force, alluded to the development of another advanced air-launched anti-ship weapon.

It will certainly be interesting going forward to learn more about these modified maritime strike-focused GBU-31/Bs, as well as other developments, in weapons and in new tactics, techniques, and procedures, which might also emerge from the broader Quicksink program.

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