In 1991, the world watched Operation Desert Storm unfold on TV. Each night, the evening news played grainy black and white videos of precision munitions discreetly selecting military targets, and deftly bypassing civilians, changing the world’s perception of warfare. A new phrase entered into the lexicon to describe what we were seeing: the ‘smart bomb.’ What makes smart bombs smart are their fuzes. And thanks to Orbital ATK, today’s smart bombs are getting even smarter.

The first large-scale use of smart weapons came in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm when coalition forces demonstrated their strategic advantage.

Fuzes have evolved so much from their ancestors that the name itself has changed. A ‘fuse’ with an ‘s’ is that short piece of wire that you light at the end of a firecracker, while a ‘fuze’ with a ‘z’ is the complex device at the heart of modern munitions. For nearly half a century, Orbital ATK and its heritage companies have designed and developed advanced fuzes for a variety of military devices and missions. 

The FMU-139 fuze has remained the standard since the dawn of the ‘smart bomb’ era, despite its shortcomings. Its moving parts limit munitions’ functionality, making them harder to test, more difficult to produce, and subject to production issues as it becomes more difficult to to source dated mechanical parts.

This year, Orbital ATK introduced the FMU-167/B Hard Target Void Sensing Fuze (HTVSF). A marvel of sophisticated engineering, the HTVSF is rugged enough to blast through meters of concrete and hard rock, but sensitive enough to detect minute changes in its environment as the weapon penetrates through layers and voids (open spaces) inside a deeply buried underground complex. By counting these voids, the “smart” fuze can activate at a preprogrammed location within the structure, defeating adversaries’ high-value assets.

Orbital ATK is the first to deliver an all-electronic fuze to the Air Force and Navy’s Hard Target Void-Sensing Fuze program. This proven system, along with other technology and production advantages, enabled Orbital ATK to be selected to design, test and build the latest most advanced version ever of the FMU-139: the all-electronic FMU-139 D/B.

Completely self-contained with no moving parts FMU-139 D/B is designed to readily fit existing munitions.

Designed as a drop-in replacement for the current-generation FMU-139 fuze, the new all-electronic D/B improves munitions’ functionality and their application. Its advanced power management system allows the fuze to handle longer missions, and its improved design allows it to function as both a general-purpose fuze and a penetrator fuze. Once in production, it will ultimately replace three other fuzes currently in the field, simplifying the military’s inventory while reducing costs. 

“The FMU-139D/B win was the culmination of a multi-year strategy to bring the next generation of advanced fuzing to the warfighter,” said Dave Fine, Vice President of the Fuze and Warhead segment of Orbital ATK’s Defense Systems Group.

“The FMU-139D/B will be the fuze of choice for the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and its allies for decades to come. The selection of Orbital ATK solidifies our position as the world leader and I am proud of what our development and manufacturing team has achieved.”

The program has a 32 month qualification phase that will be led by Orbital ATK’s Missile Products Division in Plymouth, Minnesota, with production support from the Division’s Allegany Ballistics Laboratory (ABL) facility in West Virginia. Once qualified, the program will fully transition to ABL and is expected to be the cornerstone of electronic manufacturing for the foreseeable future with expected revenue reaching more than $100 million annually.