US Air Force completes tests of swarming munitions, but will they ever see battle?

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has wrapped up the primary section of its Golden Horde demonstration effort, placing the service one step nearer to creating swarming smart weapons that behave semi-autonomously and use algorithms to hunt high-priority targets.

But the expertise received’t instantly transfer right into a program of report, stated Gen. Arnold Bunch, who leads Air Force Materiel Command. Instead, the service intends to conduct digital experiments with collaborative munitions because it decides what components of Golden Horde to additional develop.

“We can determine what the gain out of that system may be, and then we will look for future ways that we can morph that into a program of record at a later time,” he advised reporters throughout a Defense Writers Group occasion on June 4. “Right now, it is not moving into a program of record.”

The closing demonstration, held May 25 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, allowed the service to finish all three aims related to the Golden Horde program, the service stated in a information launch. Golden Horde is one of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 4 main Vanguard efforts, which intention to drive transformational applied sciences utilizing prototyping and experimentation.

During the occasion, two F-16 jets from the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, launched six Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs — modified variations of Boeing’s Small Diameter Bomb. The six CSDBs established a communications hyperlink with the opposite bombs in addition to a floor station. This achieved the primary goal: connecting six weapons utilizing a the L3Harris Technologies-made Banshee 2 radio community, after earlier tests with two and 4 weapons.

To full the second goal, the Air Force despatched an in-flight goal replace from the bottom station to the swarm of CSDBs, directing the bombs to desert their present trajectory and go after a brand new goal.

For the final goal, two CSDBs carried out a synchronized time-on-target strike of a single mark, whereas two different collaborative bombs attacked two separate targets.

The demonstration confirmed the CSDBs may very well be related into the Air Force’s broader command-and-control enterprise, and it validated Georgia Tech Research Institute’s algorithm for synchronized time-on-target assaults, AFRL stated in an announcement.

“These technologies are completely changing the way we think about weapon capabilities, much like the laser-guided bomb did several decades ago,” stated AFRL commander Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle. “Golden Horde and technologies like this will enable the Department of the Air Force to overcome many of its current and future challenges, and we’re just beginning to unfold all the possibilities.”

But precisely what applied sciences will be enabled by the work pioneered in Golden Horde remains to be but to be seen. The Air Force considerably narrowed the scope of the hassle because it was first introduced as a Vanguard program in 2019. Originally, the service had hoped to make a second collaborative weapon based mostly on Raytheon Technologies’ Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, which might be flown alongside CSDBs in a posh state of affairs initially slated for 2022.

Ultimately, the Air Force scrapped these plans. Bunch declined to touch upon whether or not the Air Force would pursue a collaborative model of the Raytheon decoy.

For the subsequent section of the hassle, AFRL’s Munitions Directorate and the service’s program workplace for weapons plan to collectively construct “The Colosseum,” which will use digital engineering and digital modeling to develop and take a look at future networked, collaborative and autonomous weapons.

Live testing “becomes costly, and it could become labor intensive,” Bunch stated. “If I could create a virtual environment where I could try out new ideas and hone those, and then try to do the open air things, it makes it more efficient and more effective in the long term.”

Even although the collaborative bombs developed for Golden Horde received’t turn into operational weapons, Bunch maintains that the demonstration effort allowed the Air Force’s weapons program workplace and its analysis lab to collaborate on new expertise — a follow that’s distinctive to Vanguard applications.

“And there may be certain parts of what we found in Golden Horde that we can take out and put into another weapon or put in another system,” he added.

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