Interesting images show a Tornado IDS carrying eight GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs during test flight

The Tornado fighter bomber is one of the platforms already integrated with the GBU-39 SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs).

The GBU-39 SDB is a 250-lb multipurpose, insensitive, penetrating bomb with a blast-fragmentation warhead for stationary targets.

These bombs are equipped with deployable wings for extended standoff range that open upon release allowing the GPS-guided bomb to glide for several miles before hitting the target with accuracy.

GBU-39s are quite small: they are usually carried in two pairs underneath the fuselage (on tactical jets) or on the underwing pylons (on the AC-130W that is the largest aircraft to use this kind of bomb).

Among the Lessons Learned of the Air War in Libya, there was the need to employ SDBs to improve accuracy from distance and reduce collateral damage; a GBU-39 launched at high-speed from high altitude can travel for as much as 50 miles, allowing the attack plane to remain outside the range of most SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) batteries.

The SDB is currently integrated on the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-22, that with software increment 3.1 is able to carry 8 GBU-39s, and the AC-130W whereas all the remaining U.S. bombers (including the F-35) will get the slender bombs in the future. The Israeli and Italian air forces have procured this kind of weapon as well, with the latter planning to integrate the SDBs on the Tornado aircraft upgraded to the enhanced RET 7 and 8 standards.

Separation tests from the Italian Tornado were announced in 2013 and planned from late 2015; the images in this post, taken near Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, Italy, by photographer Giampaolo Mallei, show a Panavia Tornado MLU (Mid-Life Update) carrying four SDBs during the testing campaign conducted by Alenia Aeronautica.

Tornado with SDBs side

Image credit: Giampaolo Mallei

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. I know it’s an AMI Tornado. It won’t be an RAF one, no more weapons integration work will be carried out on UK Tornado’s. At present the Tornado will leave UK service at latest 2019. It was going to be sooner but they’ve been retained for Iraq, all in all a good thing as it will give time for Storm Shadow and Brimstone integration on Typhoon.
    Brimstone 2 should be in frontline use from next year, Storm Shadow is obviously in service on Tornado and will be integrated with Typhoon for 2018, Meteor is allegedly 2 years away from service. Spear III will be ready in the early 2020’s, if the decision is made to proceed. Integration of Spear III will probably be done for F-35 first.

  2. They WERE to be gone by the end of 2015 as part of the 2010 SDSR. Since then the air war over Iraq gave them a reprieve when even our godawful government realised they had cocked up, and thats saying something….

    I thought the Italians still had HARM in their stocks….not that HARM actually works that well, which made the retirement of ALARM (which did work) even more perplexing. I could understand withdrawing it if SPEAR III had rocked up, but with no replacement either planned or any missile available with ALARM’s capabilities it was a classic bit of penny wise pound foolish

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