GBU-69 Glide Bomb Tested by USSOCOM Drone to Replace Hellfire

In recent years armed UAVs, namely the MQ-1C Gray Eagle and MQ-9 Reaper, have become a vital element of the counter-insurgency operations that the US has involved itself in. A key limitation of these systems is there small payload which results in only a handful of ‘stored kills’. For example, the MQ-1C, which is Army Special Forces drone of choice, is only capable of carrying 4 Hellfire missiles. With the Extended Range variant of the Gray Eagle (GE-ER) being able to stay aloft for 30+ hours it’s quite evident how being able to only engage 4 targets bottlenecks the aircraft. USSOCOM is looking to resolve this by creating weapons optimized for use on UAVs.

The GBU-69 Small Glide Munition (SGM), made by Dynetics, is one of the more recent attempts at this. Weighing nearly half that of a Hellfire (60 lb. vs. 110 lb.) the SGM actually carries a larger warhead (36 lb. vs. 20 lb.) while increasing range (>20nm depending on altitude). Rather than using a rocket motor like on Hellfire, the SGM glides using a wing to take advantage of the high altitude large UAVs typically operate at. For guidance, the SGM uses the low-cost combination of GPS and SALH (laser). Further reducing development costs the multi-aperture SALH seeker is taken from the widely produced APKWS kit. Deployed from a Common Launch Tube (CLT), the SGM is already in service on AC-130s and was test-launched from a USSOCOM MQ-1C this August. With this lighter weapon, MQ-1C could double its “magazine capacity” with two glide bombs per hard-point instead of a single hellfire.

MQ-1C Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) from which ARSOAC (subordinate command of USSOCOM) tested a GBU-69. (Photo: GA)
Northrop Grumman inherited the Hatchet when they purchased Orbital ATK. (Photo: Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems)

Interestingly SGM wasn’t the only miniature munition to be tested this August. Northrop Grumman’s Hatchet also saw tests that finalized its technology demonstration phase with operational system development to follow. Hatchet is a genuinely miniature munition weighing in at only 6 lb. In that small package, NG is able to cram in a laser seeker and GPS unit. While the 3 lb. warhead is relatively miniscule it’s plenty for most soft point targets like unarmored vehicles and exposed infantry. Thanks to its small size 3 Hatchets can be carried in each Common Launch Tube allowing for 24 Hatchets to be carried in the place of 8 SGMs or 4 Hellfires. To even further increase “stored kills” Northrop Grumman is working on a dispenser that can hold 12 Hatchets on a single hardpoint. This would allow for MQ-1C to carry 48 total, allowing a vast increase in persistence during overwatch missions.