A drawing depicts the GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb II, a new weapon that will provide a substantial economic boost to Tucson through work on the program at Raytheon Missile Systems. RAYTHEON MISSILE SYSTEMS

Raytheon's new program to develop a small guided bomb for the Air Force will keep hundreds of engineers in Tucson busy for years and could be worth more than $2 billion over time, company officials said Tuesday.

The Air Force announced earlier this month that Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems and its partners had won a $450 million contract to develop its GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb II (SDBII) for manufacturing.

Raytheon beat out a team led by Boeing Co., which has been producing the initial version of the Small Diameter Bomb since 2006.

Raytheon Missile Systems President Taylor Lawrence called the contract award "a terrific win" for the company during an online press briefing.

Raytheon officials said the keys to the company's winning design were its advanced "tri-mode" target seeker, its 100 percent record in more than 20 test flights and its early emphasis on ease of production.

Raytheon was seen as something of a dark horse in the competition for the SDBII, but company officials felt confident during the four-year development process.

"We see ourselves as a seeker house, so we felt this program was right in our wheelhouse," said Harry Schulte, vice president of air warfare systems at Raytheon Missile Systems.

Raytheon's GBU-53/B incorporates an improved seeker that features three modes of operation: millimeter-wave radar, uncooled imaging infrared - a type of thermal imaging - and semiactive laser. The system also uses anti-jamming Global Positioning System satellite navigation.

The roughly 6-foot-long bomb also can be retargeted in flight via a two-way data link, and it has advanced target-recognition technology that allows it to search and catalog "target-like" objects.

The combination allows the SDBII to hit moving targets in any weather. Boeing's SDBI, designed to hit stationary targets, uses inertial navigation and GPS for navigation and targeting.

The uncooled infrared seeker offers immediate attack options compared with cooled seekers, which have cooling units that must be switched on before targeting, said Tom White, Raytheon's SDBII program director.

White said about 300 Raytheon workers, mainly in Tucson, will work on the SDBII program through the manufacturing development phase through 2016.

The system is expected to reach low-rate initial production as soon as 2013, though White said some delays in the F-35 development program may affect the SDBII rollout.

The SDBII program calls for production of about 17,000 bombs through 2018 and is expected to be worth more than $2 billion from development through production, White said.

The Pentagon expects a price tag of between $61,000 to $81,000 for each production bomb, not including development costs, he said.

The SDBII's seeker will be made in Tucson, while other elements will be made at partner companies. Final assembly will take place in Tucson, where about 50 workers will handle the program in long-term production, White said.

The weapon initially is designed to be carried internally on the stealthy F-35B/C Joint Strike Fighter and externally on the F-15E Strike Eagle.

In the future, Raytheon said, the SBDII can be adapted to a variety of aircraft, including the F-16 fighter, the A-10 attack jet and the MQ-9 Reaper attack drone.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.