The Air Force is taking new steps to fast-track a promising new in-flight weapons-networking technology to war. This system is described as a computer-enabled autonomous, collaborative data sharing capability between weapons on route to target.
The service’s Golden Horde technology, as it is called, engineers high-tech seekers into weapons such as Small Diameter Bombs to enable them to thwart enemy attempts to jam GPS targeting and share flight-trajectory and battlespace data between weapons on route to a target. An Air Force essay describes the technology as a “software defined radio for communication between weapons and a processor preloaded with collaborative algorithms.”
In flight “collaborative targeting” enables one weapon to use its advanced seeker to identify an enemy jammer and transmit that tactical detail to another weapon allowing it to adjust course as needed. A recent test of Golden Horde using collaborative Small Diameter Bombs exchanging data in flight showed great promise, as well as areas of needed improvement. The Air Force tested the ability of 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.
Now, the Air Force Research Lab is aligning its development efforts with the service’s acquisition entity to build upon its progress developing the innovations needed to operationalize the weapon.
“As we go forward with our acquisition partner, who is PEO weapons, they know how to better structure the future acquisition of those weapons. We’re in partnership with acquisition. This is an S&T (science & technology) effort for sure, but partnering with PEO Weapons will enhance the subsequent acquisition initiatives it is furthering,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), told a group of reporters.
Pringle’s discussion of an AFRL S&T efforts alliance with Air Force acquisition aligns with current service-wide efforts to better synergize successful innovations from S&T with accelerated acquisition initiatives aimed at fast-tracking promising new technologies to war. The concept, as articulated in a recently published AFRL strategy document, is described by Pringle as an Air Force effort to closely align its research and laboratory community with rapid acquisition experts to leverage the near term promise of new technical breakthroughs.
“It’s a natural evolution of the progress that Golden Horde has made to date. Of course, you’re familiar with the small diameter bomb flights that occurred in February, those were successful in looking at multiple SBDs and having them converge on a particular target on time and on target. And so this is just a natural progression, but it’s also a step in the right direction, because it just gets us closer to that digital environment.” Pringle said.
The technical and tactical concepts of the SBD in-flight weapons collaboration, Air Force assessments explain, are designed to enable sensors integrated into the weapons themselves to discern new information, assess it in relation to front-loaded mission specifics and perform the analytics needed to make course corrections as needed. While fully bringing this to fruition may require even more advanced AI-enabled autonomy, it represents the cusp of very significant breakthrough technology.
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.