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US Air Force drops new ‘bunker buster' bomb for first time

The new GBU-72 bunker buster bomb being dropped from an F-15E Strike Eagle during a series of tests now announced by the US Air Force. (US Air Force)

The US Air Force (USAF) has performed the first test drops of its new Boeing Guided Bomb Unit‐ (GBU)-72 Advanced 5K (A5K) Penetrator, releasing the ‘bunker buster' bomb from a Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle.

The service announced on 12 October that it had dropped the 5,000 lb weapon (the 5K in its moniker) on several occasions during a series of tests from late July through to early October.

“That series included the first-ever weapons load, flight and release of the weapon 23 July,” the USAF said. “The test series, deemed a success by the Armament Directorate's Direct Attack Division, consisted of three flights”. The USAF noted that the final drop took place into the Elgin Air Force Base (AFB) range in Florida on 7 October, marking the end of the flight trials planned by the 780th Test Squadron and performed by the 40th Flight Test Squadron.

The GBU-72 utilises the KMU-572 tail kit from a 2,000 lb Boeing GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) mated with a BLU-109 or BLU-137/B ‘bunker buster' warhead, and is designed to destroy deeply buried and hardened structures. “Lethality is expected to be substantially higher compared to similar legacy weapons like the GBU-28”, James Culliton, GBU-72 Program Manager, was quoted as saying. The Raytheon GBU-28 Paveway III is also a 5,000 lb-class weapon that was first employed during Operation ‘Desert Storm' in 1991.

Following further integration testing, the GBU-72 is scheduled to undertake additional developmental and operational testing in 2022. No timeline for its fielding has been disclosed.

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