Air Force S&T targets speed, guided weapons

Air Force S&T targets speed, guided weapons

Air Force scientists want to beef up bunker-buster type munitions such as the current GBU-28 to go after deeper, more fortified enemy targets.

“We know that a lot of our adversary targets are going further underground and using more complex systems, so we do want to figure out how you can do a better job of taking out those targets with penetrating weapons,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, Military Deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.

The biggest challenge with next-generation munitions, however, is working on technologies that allow air-to-ground weapons to attack re-locatable, moving targets, Davis explained.


To illustrate this point, Davis referenced the now-in-development Small Diameter Bomb II, a guided, air-dropped munition engineered to track targets in a variety of ways; the weapon uses a tri-mode seeker and can locate targets using RF guidance, semi-active laser guidance or millimeter wave technology.

The tri-mode seeker allows the weapon to travel through obscurants such as dust or clouds and track moving targets, according to statements from its maker — Raytheon.

“We are trying to make sure we have weapons that are flexible enough to allow us to go after moving targets. The Small Diameter Bomb II is very useful because it has three modes and a data-link which in some cases can autonomously find and track moving targets,” Davis said.

The Air Force’s roughly $2 billion a year Science and Technology budget is focused on a wide-ranging set of challenges, such as assessing the latest in hypersonic propulsion, tracking moving targets with air-to-ground munitions, analyzing ISR data and looking at whether fighter planes armed with missiles could help with ballistic missile defense, senior service leaders said.

“Our two billion a year in S&T cuts across every area you could imagine. We’re in the business of trying to maintain 50-year old airframes and trying to look at what the next hypersonic propulsion vehicle is going to be. There is a range – a mix to the balance of where that money goes,” Davis said.

The service made headlines recently when the Air Force Research Lab’s Hypersonic X-51A WaveRider aircraft launched off of a B-52, reaching speeds greater than Mach 5, Davis explained.

“Now we have to figure out how you go Mach 5 and do something once you get there. That is the next big step,” Davis said.

Davis was referring to a May 1, 2013 flight wherein the X-51A took off from the Air Force Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif., under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress.

“It was released at approximately 50,000 feet and accelerated to Mach 4.8 in about 26 seconds powered by a solid rocket booster.  After separating from the booster, the cruiser’s scramjet engine then lit and accelerated to Mach 5.1 at 60,000 feet,” an Air Force press statement reads. “After exhausting its 240-second fuel supply, the vehicle continued to send back telemetry data until it splashed down into the ocean and was destroyed as designed.  All told, 370 seconds of data was collected from the experiment.”

Alongside hypersonic propulsion, the Air Force’s S&T portfolio is also prioritizing a wide-range of next generation weaponry and munitions. For instance, the service is looking at the potential use of non-kinetic weapons such as electromagnetic warfare to achieve a specific sought after battlefield “effect” without necessarily damaging infrastructure or people, Davis explained.

“We’re looking at how we use electronic pulses to shut down computer systems if we need to, We’ve flown demonstrators that show you can do that,” he said.

The Air Force is also exploring an approach referred to as Airborne Weapons Layer (AWL), an effort to explore the feasibility of using fighter jets to shoot down long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles during the initial or final phase of flight, Davis said.

“You have a lot of flexibility with these planes, which is why they talk about layered defenses. There is a wide variety of thought regarding whether you attack them in the re-entry phase or attack them during the boost {initial} phase where they launch,” he said.

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How about devoting some S&T money to real world, low tech applications, like what a ground pounder needs to locate, engage and eliminate an insurgent? While nice science projects, these high tech threats are just not real. This is how we squander money on a massive scale, and then whine about not being able to sustain operational readiness levels.

Bunker-busting will come up eventually when someone decides to hit Iran (though the recent election makes me kind of hopeful that things are changing over there). As for Waverider, not sure yet how it’ll pan out.

Eliminating insurgencies from the air…I wonder how the Air Force will sell that one…mind-reading from the air, perhaps. Unless they use GMTI and JSTARS to analyze human movement on the ground, and try to figure out who is walking on the side of the road to the farmers market, and who is planting a bomb…

The dude (with the shovel) that stops walking and starts digging is the “bomber”.…… :) .…. go figure!

Might have been good to do this research prior to building new planes so you know things like how long an internal weapon bay needs to be, or what range will you need, or do you need stealth at all if you can EMP pulse your way into and out of defended air space.

Once a person stops moving, GMTI won’t pick it up. And it won’t pick up that one guy in a sea of people either.

Thought the issue was that they assumed that JSF wouldn’t carry anything longer or bigger…lo and behold.

AF needs to keep evolving as we will not always be faced with insurgents, but may have to address different types of targets.

Agreed, to fend off aliens, of the intergalactic space variety.

While we should always look at new technology for bombs. The fact the Iranian bomb sights are deep even possibly a mile under ground most munitions wont hit them. Maybe need a nuclear bunker buster???? I hope the USAF also keeps old iron bombs in storage too not al targets need a laser guided bomb.

No…like a real enemy that constitutes a strategic threat. Think about it.…

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