BLU-129/B – Very Low Collateral Damage Weapon (VLCDW)
Targets are not engaged if the act of engaging the targets would result in excessive damage to non-hostile targets. In many modern combat zones, America’s adversaries strategically locate their forces within urban environments, providing them with possible asymmetric ground advantages. Urban environments negate many traditional U.S. military advantages, such as massive firepower, by exploiting the U.S.’s unwillingness to risk injury to nearby friendly forces, cultural sites, or noncombatants.
An innovative class of conventional weapon was needed to give commanders the desired effect on targets while avoiding excessive collateral damage. Such a weapon would remove limits on missions and allow US forces to engage adversaries in close proximity to damage-sensitive areas.
The development of the Very Low Collateral Damage Weapon (VLCDW) was a response to a Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON). The weapon known as a Composite Case Warhead provided a very low collateral damage weapon, with a carbon fiber composite case for high near-field lethality deliver 3x reduction in collateral damage. The Air Force anticipated a higher unit cost due to the use of carbon bomb bodies instead of the standard steel casing, as well as a unique explosive fill vice the standard explosive fill.
The BLU-129/B is a 500lb bomb body that is made from carbon fibers, instead of traditional steel. This 500lb bomb body will be joined to JDAM tailkits, and eventually other weapon tailkits that interface with the standard 500lb bomb body shape. VLCDW has been given the identifier of BLU-129/B by USAF, and is also commonly referred to as a Precision Lethality MK-82, or PL MK-82.
Precision Lethality MK82 is a Quick Reaction Capability acquisition program to field a 500-lb composite case warhead (BLU-129) capability in response to a United States Central Command Joint Urgent Operational Need for a very low collateral damage weapon.
On 29 March 2010, the OSD Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell directed the Department of the Air Force to rapidly develop and field the BLU-129 using the same composite case warhead and Multi-phase Blast Explosive technologies used in the 250-lb Small Diameter Bomb Focused Lethality Munition weapon. In May 2010, the Air Force Reseach Laboratory (AFRL) funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a Federally Funded Research and Development Center, to complete a 3-month effort to mature their 2005 500-lb warhead design to meet the BLU-129 operational performance requirements.
The Air Force Research Laboratory teamed with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to design the PL82 composite warhead case which disintegrates during the explosion and minimizes fragmentation, thus decreasing damage and injury to nearby structures and personnel, including friendly forces and civilians. The program goal was to rapidly design, develop, test, produce, and field a new, very-low-collateral-damage warhead.
Munitions specialists from LLNL and AFRL embarked on an extremely aggressive five-month project to design and test an advanced warhead, and accelerate the weapon’s technical maturity for immediate transition to an equally aggressive Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) acquisition program at the Air Armament Center (AAC), Eglin Air Force Base, FL. The initial phase of the program was referred to as the Precision Lethality Mk-82 Risk Reduction Effort prior to the weapon being given the identifier of BLU-129/B.
During the QRC phase of the program, LLNL worked closely with the AAC Program Office to prioritize requirements, build warhead prototypes to test performance and integration with inventoried guidance kits, and transition the LLNL-developed manufacturing technology to an industrial partner, Aerojet Corporation. This program was a model of close cooperation between the munitions research, development, and production communities to rapidly provide a valuable new capability to the warfighter.
LLNL scientists were given only a few months to design a composite-cased warhead that would maintain the outer mold line and mass properties of the standard Mk-82 while easily integrating with applicable precision guidance kits and aircraft. The most technically challenging aspect of the design process was making sure the case had sufficient strength and stiffness to attain the required penetration goals.
Advanced engineering analysis was employed to design the warhead, and multiple iterations were performed to balance the goals of a minimum number of metal components (for low collateral damage), maximum high explosive fill volume (for near-field lethality), and sufficient case strength (for penetration). The bulk of the design efforts were focused on attaining the penetration capability using ALE3D code while other quasi-static analyses of local components were performed using the implicit structural analysis code NIKE3D. Model validation was performed by analyzing legacy LLNL composite munitions, comparing LLNL simulation results with AFRL simulation results.
The physical properties of the BLU-129/B warhead were intentionally customized to closely match the standard Mk-82, with the case having the same outer shape and identical interfaces to maintain compatibility with existing fuses and precision guidance kits, and to provide ready application to a broad range of military aircraft. One of the main challenges of a compositecased warhead was joining the nonsteel body with metal components to facilitate using the standard metal weapon interfaces
Physical properties of the warhead are customized to closely match the Mk82, an existing 500-pound General Purpose Bomb. The case has the same outer shape and interfaces as the Mk82, which maintains compatibility with existing fuzes and precision guidance kits and provides ready application to a broad range of military aircraft. AFRL simultaneously developed a heavy explosive formulation to increase the weight of the warhead, because the composite case is lighter than the steel-cased Mk82.
This explosive also provides increased blast effects for improved near-field lethality performance. The BLU 129/B QRC program worked closely with AFRL and LLNL to prioritize requirements and maximize PL82 Risk Reduction testing for relevance to the final munitions development and to reduce schedule risks. This effort is a showcase for close cooperation between the munitions research, development, and production communities to rapidly provide a valuable munitions capability for the warfighter.
$50M in FY10 supplemental funding was utilized for the development of a Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) response weapon known as the Very Low Collateral Damage Weapon (VLCDW).BLU-129/B is not a Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) replacement, despite USAF placing this FY10 supplemental funding in the JDAM PE. The $50M was used to mature, test, and integrate the carbon fiber technology that was originally developed by USAF research laboratories with exiting weapon tailkits, fuzes, and fighter aircraft. Fielding of the BLU-129/B is expected to occur in FY11.
Activities in 2010 included design refinement and penetration modeling of the carbon fiber bomb body. Manufacturing processes were developed for non-steel bomb body components which are joined with inventory standard metal weapon interface units (fuzes, lugs, cables, fins). Design was completed of explosive fill that increased near-field blast lethality, yet does not negatively affect the bomb's center of gravity. Integration of the bomb body with JDAM tailkits was conducted. Arena and sled blast testing for lethality calculations was finished, with integration on aircraft for safe carriage and separation certification.
Engineering, manufacturing, test, and integration contracts are all managed by Air Armament Center (AAC) at Eglin AFB, FL, acting as the Prime Integrator of the program. A sole source for urgent and compelling needs fixed price contract was issued to Aerojet Corporation for carbon case bomb body design, engineering, and manufacturing. Existing contracts between AAC and Boeing on the JDAM contract were used to test the weapon once it was meshed with JDAM tailkits. USAF aircraft at the Eglin AFB SEEK EAGLE program were used to test the carriage and release properties of the all-up-round weapon.
The contract was awarded 21 September 2010, with DT/OT is scheduled for Feb/Mar 2011. A contract for production of 400 weapons was awarded in Mar/Apr 2011. Production deliveries started approximately April 2011, and continue through February 2012. During production, additional R&D activities were performed to qualify the weapon for Navy shipboard use, and to perform additional envelope expansion flight testing. All R&D activity was expected to cease no later than September 2011.
- A pilot who helped stand up the 33rd Fighter Wing's F-35 Lightning II training program here was awarded a Bronze Star for his deployment experience of putting bombs on target. Maj. Michael Gette, 58th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, was awarded the honor in front of approximately 200 uniformed, civilian and contracted members of the joint strike fighter integrated training center 23 July 2012.
Gette, one of the top five percent of pilots who has gone through U.S. Air Force Weapons School, used his advanced training in weapons and tactics employment to orchestrate the initial fielding of the BLU-129, very low collateral damage weapon while in the theater of operations.
"This weapon was the solution for a joint operational urgent need by the combatant commanders," said Norma Taylor, an acquisition program manager at Eglin, who led the BLU-129 quick reaction capability effort at the time.
Emails and the phone conversations were constantly going between when Gette, who was in the field, back to Taylor's team here. That team was part of the Air Armament Center then, but now falls under new leadership with the same mission of equipping warfighters with strike weapons to fight and win decisively. Their role was to share detailed and comprehensive information needed before the initial employment of the weapon.
Fielding the 500-pound class weapon, which touts virtually no fragmentation, for the first time in combat, made Gette the ideal candidate to teach wing and squadron-level weapons officers in the Central Command area of responsibility supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, New Dawn and Combined Joint Task Forces.
The PB2017 program was dependent on field stated quantity requirements. The program would continue acquisition planning for the production restart of BLU-129/B and will develop a work plan transition to Hill (AFLCMC/EBH).
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