AL ASAD, Iraq -- Sweat slowly drips off of the Marines as they carefully raise the 500- and 1000-pound munitions to the weapons carriage on the AV-8B Harrier - the Flying Nightmares are readying for action.
Marine Attack Squadron 513, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, is the first Harrier squadron to employ the Joint Direct Attack Munitions in a combat zone.
"With this new feature on our jets, we will be able to hit targets more accurately, therefore making us a more effective squadron," said Lt. Col. Willis E. Price, commanding officer, VMA-513.
The previous laser guided precision munitions were completely dependent on a continuous laser spotter being directed at the target until immediately before impact by another aircraft or by a Marine on the ground.
The JDAM is a global positioning system guided munition that is all-weather capable. The JDAM weapons need to only know the GPS coordinate of the target and it will navigate on its own until impact.
"The JDAM is essentially a 'fire and forget' weapon," said Capt. Benjamin K. Hutchins, squadron weapons and tactics officer, VMA-513. "Once the target is identified and the GPS coordinates are entered, the pilot can forget about that target and focus on the next target."
According to Master Sgt. Marc A. Senecal, aviation ordnance chief, VMA-513, the JDAM is a guidance and control kit added to regular munitions and turns them into guided smart bombs.
"The JDAM versions we can fly on the AV-8B are the 500- or 1000-pound, general-purpose bombs with a JDAM tail fin that houses a GPS guidance system, control fins and a receiver antenna," said Senecal, a native of Kissimmee, Fla. "There is also a small strake kit added to the front of the bomb to provide stability in flight."
The new JDAM system is also more reliable than prior guidance systems used by the Harrier.
"This new system isn't affected by weather conditions or bad communication signals," said Hutchins, a native Raleigh, N.C. "If the weather was bad, with the old system, the pilot may not be able to locate the laser designator and if communications were bad, then the ground Marines wouldn't be able to call the pilots in and thereby making the air support nearly useless."
By adding the JDAM system to the Harriers arsenal, they have become more capable of handling dangerous situations on their own.
"With the JDAM system, our jets are less reliant on having either another aircraft or an infantry Marine on the ground to mark the targets with various laser designators," said Senecal. "The Harrier is now able to pick out the target and employ the munitions needed to destroy the target without the assistance of other aircraft or ground Marines."
With all of the improvements the JDAM provides over its predecessors, the most crucial improvement is felt by those Marines on the ground and the front lines.
"The most important aspect of the JDAM system is that it means that the Marine rifleman in contact with the enemy can count on our bombs being on target and knowing that help is only a radio call away," said Senecal.
With the new JDAM system, one thing is seamlessly clear; the enemies of VMA-513 will find out why they are called the Flying Nightmares.