It’s not quite the Dwarven lightning axe of the same name

Thursday, May 18th, 2023

The Air Force plans to spend $320 million buying 1,500 units of Raytheon’s 204-pound GBU-53/B StormBreaker precision glide bomb:

These relatively small (7” diameter) but sophisticated weapons will be built at a facility in Tucson, Arizona through June of 2027. European missile manufacturer MBDA will contribute the pop-out wings that swing out from the bomb upon launch. The latest order is comparable to past unit costs, equating to $213,000 per bomb.


While it’s not quite the Dwarven lightning axe of the same name used by Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it still has a whiff of the supernatural thanks to its three-eyed “tri-spectral” seeker, offering the option of laser-guidance, an uncooled infrared seeker and a millimeter-wave radar—all mounted on the same moveable gimbal in the nose.

Those sensors can be used in concert to improve accuracy, or used individually if one sensor type is degraded by counter-measures or the explosive device encounters smoke, fog, or rain (which is why ‘StormBreaker’ is all-weather capable). On average, the bomb lands within a meter of its designated target.

While gliding to its target, the bomb’s sensors also allow it to function as a reconnaissance system, feeding back sensor data to be used in locating additional targets or updating mission plans. It can even be instructed to search for specific enemies, using its infrared system to classify possible targets and send back targeting suggestions for approval or refusal by a human operator. This allows use in a fire-and-forget manner, improving survivability of the launching aircraft.

For a good measure, StormBreaker also uses jam-resistant GPS and inertial guidance, and can receive course-corrections from other aircraft or ground forces via its two-way Link 16 datalink. That could potentially allow re-directing of strikes to avoid collateral damage to civilians, or to hit higher priority targets as they’re detected.

When launched from maximum altitude, the glide bomb can engage moving targets up to 45 miles away, or static ones at 69 miles—allowing use from outside the range of short-range air defenses, and even lower-end medium-range systems. Against closer targets, though, the bomb employs an energy-burning ‘spiral mode’ trajectory to avoid overshooting its target.

The weapon’s 105-pound multi-purpose shaped-charge warhead is said to be effective against targets ranging from main battle tanks to infantry, unfortified buildings, and patrol boats. The bomb’s ability to hit moving targets is meant to make it capable of enforcing a ‘no-drive’ zone (the ground-based equivalent to a No-Fly Zone), forbidding traversal of an area by a warring party’s ground vehicles. It also seems useful for battling navies that rely on numerous smaller boats, like those of North Korea or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Between the warhead’s precision and relatively small size—as compared to unguided or GPS-outfitted bombs often clocking in at 500-, 1,000 and 2,000 pounds—Raytheon has argued that this bomb is ideal for minimizing collateral damage in densely populated areas.

Having all of these options built into one weapon streamlines logistics by removing the need to load multiple weapon types on a warplane in the interest of accounting for various contingencies.


Intriguingly, Raytheon has also suggested adding propulsion—likely a rocket booster—to further extend the weapon’s reach. If that can be done at limited additional cost, the glide bomb might transform into a comparatively cheap missile for picking off air defenses and high-value mobile targets from a moderate standoff distance.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “These relatively small (7” diameter) but sophisticated weapons will be built at a facility in Tucson, Arizona through June of 2027.”

    Let’s see — 1,500 units to be built between now and mid-2027, i.e. about 4 years or approximately a build rate of about 1 per day. China laughs! And laughs & laughs!!

    Then again, what makes it a glide bomb is the pop-out wings, that will have to be imported from somewhere in Europe. So Euroscum can prevent production of this bomb at any time of their choosing. And in 4 years time, will anyone in Europe still be in NATO?

    Of course, given the rate at which Biden* is ushering in illegal aliens into Arizona, will Arizona still be part of the US in 4 years time?

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    The more important question is, Will Arizona be part of the PAC 12 in four years time?

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