Sovereign sustainability has taken a leap, with Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No. 81 Wing accepting and successfully expending the first Australian manufactured BLU-111(AUS)B/B. The BLU-111(AUS)B/B is designed as a direct replacement for the older-generation Mk82 500lb warheads, delivering comparable performance while improving safety characteristics. The 500lb high-explosive warhead was delivered to No. 3 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown last year, where it was configured by armament technicians as a Paveway II laser guided bomb before being loaded onto the F-35A Lightning II for a training sortie. This warhead represents the next step in Australian defence industry supplying sovereign manufactured weapons for use by current and future air combat platforms.
AIR6000 Weapons Project Engineering Manager, Squadron Leader Ryan Kell said,”Once fully introduced into service, the BLU-111(AUS)B/B would be used as the go-to 500lb high-explosive warhead for Air Force during operations and training exercises. The BLU-111(AUS)B/B is intended for use in both Paveway II laser guided bombs and the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) family of guided bombs. The development and production of the BLU-111(AUS)B/B has been an ongoing collaboration between the United States Government, Defence and Australian industry, specifically the manufacturer, Australian Munitions.”
Sovereign production of the BLU-111(AUS)B/B commenced after the success of BLU-126(AUS)/B, 500lb low-collateral bomb which first demonstrated Australian ability to produce reduced sensitivity warheads using locally manufactured ingredients for the explosive fill. The design is based on the US manufactured BLU-111B/B, but has been tailored to meet Australian production methods while providing improved safety characteristics. Aircraft bomb warheads have been produced in Australia for a number of decades, but the BLU-111(AUS)B/B warhead represents a generational change in explosives manufacture and safety technologies through use of a polymer-bonded explosive fill and design features which reduce the likelihood of the warhead detonating in the event of a safety incident.
While initial use of the BLU-111(AUS)B/B is primarily by the F-35A, future use of the BLU-111(AUS)B/B is likely to extend beyond No. 81 Wing to include Hawk 127 lead-in fighter, F/A-18F Super Hornet and future platforms such as the MQ-9B Sky Guardian, which will employ 500lb-class weapons. Having 500lb bombs produced in Australia increases self-reliance and resilience of RAAF air-combat platforms and the warfighting capability they provide. As a future line of effort, the ability to act as a second line of supply to allied nations could see Australia providing warheads for use by allies during operations or training, which would greatly enhance international relationships and interoperability.