Air Force Autonomous "Collaborative" Bombs Network Attack Data in Flight
VIDEO: Pentagon & Raytheon Innovate New "Cyber Resilience" Tools
By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington D.C.) The Air Force is testing air-dropped bombs able to share target-sensitive data with each other in flight to adjust attack specifics, find GPS-jammers and optimize the speed and precision with which attack operations can be conducted.
A recent test at the Air Force Test Center flew an F-16 armed with what an Air Force report called “Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs,” weapons modified with advanced computer algorithms enabling greater levels of autonomy, information sharing and targeting guidance protections.
The Air Force program, called Golden Horde, is built upon the technical concept of Networked, Collaborative and Autonomous, or NCA, weapons.
“The technologies enabling this new capability include a home-on-GPS-jam seeker that gathers information about the battlespace, a software defined radio for communication between weapons and a processor preloaded with collaborative algorithms,” the Air Force report says.
Pre-mission software is loaded onto the weapons, along with programs for advanced autonomy, designed to detect and avert enemy countermeasures and locate optimal targets, potentially re-directing munitions in flight.
Perhaps a sensor on one of the weapons is able to intercept or at least identify some kind of GPS targeting “jammer,” and then send course-correcting data to the other weapon, enabling it to realign its trajectory.
“During the mission, the weapons referred to predefined rules of engagement, a set of constraints preloaded by a mission planner, and determined that the jammer was not the highest priority target. The weapons then collaborated to identify the two highest priority targets,” the Air Force report explained.
This development, underway in large measure with the Air Force Research Laboratory, brings the possibility of drastically decreasing sensor-to-shooter time, adjusting to new targeting intelligence in flight and using new countermeasures to overcome enemy defenses.
Much of this would need to be enabled by greater levels of computer autonomy wherein, as mentioned in the Air Force report, target sets and mission specifics could be mission-loaded into the weapon at the front end of an operation. This could allow sensors built-into the weapon to gather new data, bounce it off of or assess it in relation to front-loaded mission specifics and perform the necessary analytics to make in-flight adjustments.
The adjustments are made in alignment with an advanced computer-operated approach called “play calling,” wherein groups of “collaborative” or networked weapons can enable or disable according to predefined conditions. “Weapons that use this technology are semi-autonomous since they abide by predefined rules of engagement and only execute based on an approved list of plays,” The Air Force report says.
Col. Garry Haase, director of the AFRL Munitions Directorate, said “this successful Golden Horde demonstration builds the foundation for integrating this technology into a variety of other weapon systems, which will help the U.S. maintain a technological advantage over our adversaries.”
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.