US F-35 fighter drops first guided bomb against ground target


By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet dropped a 500-pound bomb this week,hitting a tank at Edwards Air Force Base in California andmarking the first time the new warplane has fired a weapon, thePentagon said Wednesday.

An F-35 B-model jet released the laser-guided Guided BombUnit-12 (GBU-12) Paveway II bomb from its internal weapons baywhile flying at around 25,000 feet, successfully smashing into atank parked on the ground, the Pentagon's F-35 program officesaid in a statement. It took 35 seconds to hit the target.

"This guided weapons delivery test of a GBU-12 marks thefirst time the F-35 truly became a weapon system," said MarineCorps Major Richard Rusnok, the pilot who flew the plane duringthe weapons test Tuesday. "It represents another step forward indevelopment of this vital program."

After more than a decade of development, the $392 billionF-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is making strides in testing,production and operations. The Marine Corps plans to startoperating the planes in mid-2015.

The Pentagon's top arms buyer, Frank Kendall, this week saidthe F-35 program had made sufficient progress to budget forhigher production in fiscal year 2015, but said he remainedconcerned about progress on the jet's software, reliability anda computer-based logistics system.

The GBU-12 weapons test will be followed by a live fire testof an AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, orAMRAAM, built by Raytheon Co, later Wednesday, also atEdwards Air Force Base.

A test of the F-35's ability to drop a 1,000-pound GBU-32built by Boeing Co is planned next month.

The GBU-12 Paveway II is built by Lockheed and Raytheon.Tuesday's test was not considered a live fire test since thebomb did not carry explosives, said Kyra Hawn, a spokeswoman forthe F-35 program.

She said no explosives were used to save money, since thereal point of the test was to ensure that the fighter jet wouldbe able to accurately deliver the bomb onto a ground target.

The F-35 used its Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS),built by Lockheed, to allow the pilot to identify, track,designate and accurately deliver the bomb on target.

Hawn said EOTS is the world's first sensor to combineforward-looking infrared, infrared search and track, and a laserdesignator to allow F-35 pilots to hit targets.

Last week, the Navy variant, or F-35C, released its firstweapon during testing at Naval Air Station Patuxtent River insouthern Maryland, and the Air Force version, or A-model, didthe first ground release pit testing of a GBU-39, a 250-poundsmall diameter bomb.

Lockheed is developing three models of the new radar-evadingwarplane for the U.S. military and eight countries that helpedfund its development: Britain, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Norway,Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Israel and Japan have also placed orders for the jet.

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