The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale of 3,900 air-launched, precision-guided glide bombs and associated equipment, training, and support to Australia, according to an October 2 Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) news release.
The sale is still subject to approval by the United States Congress.
“The Government of Australia has requested a possible sale of up to three thousand nine hundred (3,900) GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb Increment II (SDB II), up to thirty (30) GBU-53/B Guided Test Vehicles (GTV), up to sixty (60) GBU-53/B Captive Carry Reliability Trainers (CCRT),” the statement reads.
The GBU-53 is manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Raytheon. The estimated total value of the defense deal is $815 million.
Armed with a 204 pounds (93 kilogram) warhead, the GBU-53 SDB II has an operational range of around 45 miles (74 kilometers) and can be used to engage moving ground targets. The missile is fitted with an integrated missile guidance system enable the weapon to engage targets at any time of day and in all-weather conditions.
According to Raytheon, the missile’s seeker operates in three modes: “millimeter-wave radar, to track targets through any type of weather; imaging infrared, to distinguish targets from other objects; and laser, to follow either an airborne designator or one on the ground.” The three modes make it harder to use countermeasures successfully.
The GBU-53 SDB II is currently being integrated for use on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F/A-18E/Fs by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. Raytheon is expected to complete integration on the F-15E Strike Eagle by the end of this year. The SDB II will be specifically purchased for Australia’s new fighter jet.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will receive a total of 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, at a cost of around A$98 million per fighter jet beginning in 2018 with the entire F-35A fleet expected to reach full operating capability by 2023. “The proposed sale will improve Australia’s F-35 survivability and will enhance its capability to deter global threats, strengthen its homeland defense and cooperate in coalition defense initiatives,” DSCA notes.
“The proposed sale of SDB II supports and complements the ongoing sale of the F-35A to (…) RAAF,” according to DSCA. “This capability will strengthen combined operations, particularly air to ground strike missions in all-weather conditions, and increase interoperability between the United States and the RAAF.” TheGBU-53 SDB II can be fitted into the internal weapons bay of the F-35A.
In 2016, the U.S. State Department cleared the sale of 2,950 GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs Increment I (SDB I) to Australia. It also approved the sale of 450 AIM-120D advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs) in the same year. Australia’s defense budget is set to increase by approximately 6 percent in real terms during the current fiscal year.