An Australian F-35A aircraft dropped two inert GBU-31v3 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapons for the first time on July 20, marking a ground-breaking step in the evolution of Air Force’s fifth-generation strike capability.
Aircraft A35-006, piloted by the Commanding Officer of No. 3 Squadron, Wing Commander (WGCDR) Darren Clare, released the weapons over the Barry M. Goldwater range in Arizona, US.
WGCDR Clare said the weapons impacted their targets precisely.
“You can feel the movement of the weapon-bay doors as they open and a reasonably significant thump when 4000 pounds of bombs fall from the aircraft,” WGCDR Clare said. “I was able to clearly watch the bombs impact on the targeting pod from the screen in the cockpit as well.”
The first in-flight weapons release of a GBU-31 JDAM occurred in October 2012, when Major Matthew Phillips, of the US Air Force, released an instrumented GBU-31 over the China Lake test range in California, US, from the left internal weapons bay.
The F-35A is designed to carry a payload of up to 8200kg using 10 weapon stations, including four internal weapon stations located in two weapon bays to maximise stealth capability. The conventional take-off and landing variant Australia is acquiring has three external weapon stations for each wing if required.
Weapons Sub-Project Manager Squadron Leader (SQNLDR) Richard Jarek, of the Joint Strike Fighter Division, said at initial operating capability in December 2020, the Australian F-35A weapons suite would include the AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, the AIM9X sidewinder air-to-air missile, GPS-guided JDAM bombs, small diameter bombs and the internal 25mm gun.
“A key feature of the aircraft’s low-observable design is its ability to carry weapons internally,” SQNLDR Jarek said. “This makes the F-35A more difficult to target, thereby enhancing its survivability.”
WGCDR Clare said the release of the GBU-31 bombs was another step towards reaching IOC.
“It is great to see that every week we are taking small and large steps towards our goal of getting our jets prepared to defend Australia as we transition to the new aircraft,” he said.