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Air Force Wants Flexible Munitions It Can Easily Upgrade

by Kris Osborn on September 12, 2013

Load Crew CompetitionThe Air Force is in the early stages of engineering a new class of tailorable, flexible weapons designed to embrace new technologies as they emerge and switch seekers or sensors as needed, service officials said.

Managed in part by the Air Force Research Lab Munitions Directorate, the flexible weapons program aims to build small, medium and large-sized bombs able to accommodate the latest in emerging technologies and exchange capabilities, Air Force Chief Scientist Mica Endsley told Military​.com in an interview.

“This is a great example of how we are looking at open architecture. As you develop new capabilities, it is easy to swap those onto the aircraft system without having to go through huge changes and costs,” said Endsley.

By open architecture, Endsley was referring to an effort to build weapons able to switch parts as needed, integrate new software and other technologies as they emerge.

The ability to build upon and not limit capability is a major thrust of the flexible weapons program. For instance, the weapons program will be configured to bring the capabilities of GBU-28 bunker busters, precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions and the Small Diameter Bomb II, which is in development.  The guided, air-dropped Small Diameter Bomb II can track targets using an RF seeker, millimeter wave technology and semi-active laser guidance.

These modular weapons are slated for development in what’s called a “proof of concept” from 2014 to 2017, said Leo Rose, Air Force Research Laboratory flexible weapon research program manager.

“We want to use inexpensive weapons for inexpensive targets and use more capable weapons for higher-value targets,” he said.

“If I want to do a modular weapon, then one day I put on an EO/IR (electro-optical/infrared) seeker and the weapon works. Then the next day I put an RF seeker on. There are things I have to do from a technology perspective that enable me to do that,” Rose told Military​.com.

The effort involves configuring weapons and the systems they include such as sensors, seekers, control modules, ordnance packages, propulsion system and control actuation systems, Rose explained.

“We want a backbone that connects major components together. We’re looking at changing our acquisition philosophy so that we can take advantage of the technologies in the platform and make it easier to do technology refresh,” he added.

For example if a new processor, software or seeker becomes available, the flexible weapons program is being designed to integrate that seamlessly by creating common interfaces at the beginning of the developmental process, Rose said.

“If we’re going to introduce a new approach to the design of a weapon, we certainly are not going to go backwards in capability,” he explained.

The Air Force Research Lab is working to conduct the research needed to reduce the technological risk involved in the flexible weapons acquisition plan. The idea is to streamline technological development, lower risk and significantly reduce costs, Rose explained.

“This is a paradigm shift regarding how we approach the business of developing and procuring weapons. Weapons systems are becoming more expensive and the cost of integrating new technologies on weapons platforms is cost prohibitive.”

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Bernard September 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm

The open software architecture part would be the most valuable in ensuring that you only have upgrade existing planes once to ensure they can always use the latest weapons.

I'd love to be the guy building that system.


platypusfriend September 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Repositories contributed to: usgovernment/SidewinderMissile

…ok, I can dream, can't I?..


blight_ September 16, 2013 at 9:52 am

git clone missile_launch_systems.git


Big-Dean September 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm

does that mean they are bringing the g.y bomb back-opps it apparently has already "hit" the entire air farce ;-P


Dfens September 12, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I have met Mica Endsley and have read several papers she has published. She is amazing and has had huge positive impact on the Air Force. She is a real pioneer in the field of pilot workload evaluation. It is too bad the Air Force does not rely more on people like Mica who work directly for the government instead of always outsourcing work to defense contractors. Many of the defense contractors have equally capable people, but the inherit conflict of interest that exists when the military outsources basic research always factors into the results of outsourced research. We used to understand that, but now the defense contractors have such an iron grip of control over the Department of Defense that they steer almost all available funds to themselves and leave far too little for their own research labs.


Steve September 13, 2013 at 9:17 am

"Many of the defense contractors have equally capable people, but the inherit conflict of interest that exists when the military outsources basic research…"

That's why Federally Funded Research and Development Centers exist.


Dfens September 13, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Absolutely, and the government needs to rely on them more. Instead they typically outsource "studies" like this to Lockheed and then, get this, Lockheed tells them what they really need to do is buy more Lockheed missiles. In fact, you'll never see this one coming, if the government would give Lockheed a monopoly on all missile design then they could build these missiles at the lowest possible cost, according to the brightest minds at Lockheed. No conflict of interest there. And, of course, we all know how well that ends up working out for the US taxpayer. Once they have us over that barrel they'll give it to us up the ass every chance they get.


Col. Norman September 12, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I'am tired of "modular" being the word If yo need a precision bomb use a JDAM or if you need to bomb a area a Mk-84 is the way to go every bomb doesn't need to be precision for every target.


FormerDirtDart September 13, 2013 at 1:55 am

A JDAM is a "modular" weapon, it is a 2000 lbs Mk-84 or BLU-109, and a 1000 lbs Mk-83 or BLU-110, and a 500 lbs Mk-82 or BLU-111 matched with guidance kits.
Just like how the "Paveway" series are just plain old dumb bombs with laser guidance kits strapped on.


larry September 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm

What I want to know if when are we going to get phasers and photon torpedos?


Rest Pal September 12, 2013 at 10:08 pm

I think Hollywood had already perfected those weapons back in the 80s.


oli September 13, 2013 at 12:03 am
oblatt1 September 13, 2013 at 9:23 am

Upgradable is really just short for inadequate. This all part of the industries mantra of delivering less for more. In a time of shrinking budgets the weapons need to be a lot less capable to deliver the same contractor margins. Delivering junk that :can be upgraded one day with some sort of magic" is one way of doing that.

F22, JSF, LCS, Striker the list goes on and on, less capable vehicles costing the same. Makes sense to apply the same downgrading logic to the weapons themselves.


Dfens September 13, 2013 at 11:20 pm

No, what Endsley is recommending is something like the kind of standardization IBM pioneered with its first PC's. Does every fuse hole need a custom size and thread? No, probably not. By standardizing that hole, you end up being able to put parts from many vendors in that place, as well as guidance heads and that sort of thing.


burkefett September 14, 2013 at 11:30 pm
burkefett September 14, 2013 at 11:30 pm
burkefett September 14, 2013 at 11:31 pm
oblatt1 September 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Ironic that the IBM example is a classic example of a monopolist trying to dominate a market – except it failed and the Taiwanese out maneuvered them. The same will happen to the USAF and China.


tiger September 13, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Just how heavy is a AIM-9 missile? That crew look ready to drop the damn thing……


Big-Dean September 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm

they are holding it all wrong, here the right Navy way of doing it ;-P http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m8xc6elXaV1qjxv


FormerDirtDart September 14, 2013 at 12:54 am

Strange how your "Navy" guys are wearing Air Force uniforms, and loading a missile on a F-15E


Austin September 14, 2013 at 11:37 pm
FormerDirtDart September 15, 2013 at 1:18 pm

I would say it is a F-15E from the 333rd Fighter Squadron, flying out of Seymour Johnson AFB
Please note the red tail stripe, and of course the squadron logo on the CFT http://www.av8rstuff.com/gifs/333fs.JPG

This is no doubt one of it's sisters http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5051/5511410936_d16

UAVGeek September 14, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Everyone uses three people to load sidewinders. Where have you been?


William_C1 September 15, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I'm waiting for somebody to claim in the Marines the pilot himself does it alone.


loki September 16, 2013 at 7:15 am

OH please, a marine pilot do physical labor? not in the 30 years i dealt with them.

Rest Pal September 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm

It's not the missile; it's the double cheeseburgers, French fries and coke or beer in their stomach.

of course, their body fat was pulling its weight in the wrong direction.


USS ENTERPRISE September 13, 2013 at 5:40 pm

How about missiles based on Nano technology? Yes? No?


Riceball September 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm

What, like a missile that builds itself?


Riceball September 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Definitely a 15, you can tell by the intake alone and the color would suggest that it's a 15E. Looking closer you can tell that the rudder isn't a Tomcat or even a Hornet rudder since both lack the sensor(?) on the top of them. Then there's the matter of the ABUs, a very big give away that it's not sailors loading up a Navy bird.


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