Four Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs hang from the wing of an F-16 Fighting Falcon from the Air Force Test Center’s 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla., in November, 2020. (U.S. Air Force)
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is conducting a Joint Concept Technology Demonstration (JCTD) with the Navy on an AFRL-developed Dialable Effects Munition (DEM) that would allow pilots to dial up or down a munition’s power before weapons release–for example “wide area effects” for a truck convoy with no civilians present or a narrow effect in which there is a significant risk of civilian casualties.
While the JCTD began in 2018, demonstrations appear to be ramping up this year.
“We have some more tests coming up over the next several months on that,” Air Force Col. Garry Haase, the director of AFRL’s munitions directorate at Eglin AFB, Fla., said of DEM in a Jan. 29 phone interview. “The focus is on the warhead technology that could be incorporated into multiple weapons and warheads. There are some ground tests and flight tests lined up also this year. The focus is on the warhead and fusing itself.”
The DEM, if proven, could afford strike pilots more flexibility and reduce collateral damage. “Through discussions with the operational community from the early 2000s to today, we have examples of folks flying out with a particular load-out, especially in the Iraq and Afghanistan type of low-intensity conflict scenarios, and the mission may change and collateral damage may be a concern for the targets they encounter, and, if all I have is a 500-pound bomb, I may have to not prosecute that target because I don’t have that flexibility,” Haase said. “This [DEM] is trying to get after a single munition that has greater flexibility for the operator to adjust to the scenario he may encounter.”
During the Jan. 29 interview, Haase also mentioned a change in approach on Golden Horde, one of the Air Force’s three Vanguard programs.
Golden Horde is to integrate datalink radios and demonstrate the ability of a “swarm” of networked weapons systems to collaborate to decrease target error and defeat targets while adapting to changes in the field. The program is to mark a change from the typical pre-designated missions of weapon systems to missions using a Playbook of set plays under defined Rules of Engagement.
In a Dec. 15 test, an Air Force F-16 released two Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs (CSDBs) in what the Air Force called the first-ever flight demonstration of collaborative weapons.
The CSDBs used technology developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and California-based Scientific Applications and Research Associates, Inc. (SARA), which received a $100 million contract for CSDB-I in 2019. In 2019, as part of Golden Horde, Georgia Tech Applied Research Corp. (GTARC) also received an $85 million contract for a Collaborative Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (CMALD).
Raytheon builds MALD, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Northrop Grumman.
CSDBs are 250-pound Boeing GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs modified with a collaborative autonomy payload to locate and prioritize targets. AFRL said that, during the Dec. 15 CSDB test flight, the two CSDBs “quickly established communication with each other and their seekers detected a GPS jammer.”
AFRL plans had called for a collaboration this fall between CSDB-I and CMALD to defeat simulated targets, but Haase said on Jan. 29 that AFRL will not go forward with that test.
“We are moving away from doing that [test] and changing the focus for Golden Horde to be a little broader to be able to bring in more industry competition and opportunity in this technical area and shift from the point solution of these specific platforms and be a little more open and broad with more of a focus on modeling and simulation, hardware and software in the loop, plugging in subsystems and algorithms, or some of these kinds of capability,” he said.
The more generic approach to Golden Horde in not featuring adaptations to specific weapons in the Air Force inventory appears to be in response to congressional concern that Golden Horde was too mature a program to receive science and technology (S&T) funding.
This article was first published on Defense Daily, a sister publication to Aviation Today. It has been edited. View the original version here.