Monday, May 3, 2010

ACC Looks At Possibilities For Future Weapons

Early planning for improved fifth- and new sixth-generation aircraft indicates they could be designed with wide-area optical and electronic surveillance and nonexplosive weapons, and offer an intricate analysis of the enemy networks that might affect them.
Also part of the formula will be communications—including command and control—that can function even when under network attack.
Fifth-generation aircraft combine stealth and supersonic cruise speeds. The follow-on sixth generation will likely include optionally manned, stealthy, non-supersonic designs with advanced electronic attack payloads involved in ISR and clandestine transport missions.
“We’ve stood up a sixth-generation fighter office here, and we’re starting to figure out what those attributes should be,” says USAF Maj. Gen. Tom Andersen, Air Combat Command’s director of requirements. “Survivability will be huge, so how do you do that—with speed, stealth or some combination? Affordability is critical because $500 million per air vehicle doesn’t do much good [in a tough budget environment]. If we start right now, 2030 is about the time you get a sixth-gen fighter on the line. I think it will have to be capable of being [optionally] manned. The cost margin between manned and unmanned is now only about a 3-5% delta. We have to be prepared to go either way.”
These aircraft will need to be linked so they always know where they are in reference to one another and to any enemy threat all the time. The advanced architecture for connectivity is called the Joint Aerial Layered Network (JLAN). It creates a mosaic for the battlefield with space, airborne and surface layers. And within those layers, the denied and anti-access areas are detailed along with where everybody else can operate. “We have to concentrate on low probability of intercept or detection [LPI/LPD] type wave forms. Then we have to get [those messages] out of that environment so they can help the follow-on forces and support jammers like the nonstealthy Growler. That’s going to be a challenge.”
The equipment on these new aircraft designs will also be innovative. It will, for example, exploit new segments of the electromagnetic spectrum. Also increasingly important will be a translator that transforms an LPI signal to a waveform that can be widely distributed by Link 16. That would avoid compromising stealth and also generate digital information that everyone can use immediately.
Electronic attack, network invasion and generating high-power microwave (HPM) pulses as weapons will also be part of the formula.
“We’re working the Champ [counter-electronics HPM ­advanced missile project] demonstration,” which is anHPM device in a cruise missile at Kirtland AFB, N.M., says USAF Brig. Gen. Dave Goldfein, ACC’s director of air and space operations. “We’re probably about three years from where we will have to transition it from the [joint demonstration program].”
ACC officials contend that HPM and laser research is finally at a crucial point. After 20 years of promises, the laboratories and industry are miniaturizing and weaponizing those technologies, and even more progress is anticipated. The U.S. Marines, for example, plan to introduce truck-mounted, base-defense HPM into operations in Afghanistan.
There are also hints about sixth-generation unmanned aircraft.

“We’re looking at our next-generation RPAs [remotely piloted aircraft] more as standard trucks that would be modular and able to be configured to support several possible missions,” says Andersen. “Generally, we’re likely to see much less onboard processing. Also key will be machine-to-machine communications and automated decision-making aids so that communications can be limited to decision-quality data. It also will help us with the manpower-intensive back end [of RPA operations] if people can limit or automate some of the activity that eats up those man-hours.”
Upgrades to the active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars can turn them into fighter-size directed-energy weapons.
“Build it and we will come,” says Andersen. “What comes first, the investment from the services to weaponize something or the proof that the technology is ready for operational use? In today’s fiscal environment, we need to see some evidence before we can invest.
“An issue with most directed-energy concepts is that usually you can’t see the [HPM] weapon’s point of impact or the effect on the target,” he says. “So how do you boresight that weapon and produce a known effect? Is that effect temporary or permanent? What does the strike planner want and what can he trust? How do you treat it like a real weapon so that the joint force commander knows the capability it will deliver?”
AESA radars also may be the core of a new jammer and self-protection suite similar to the Navy’s Next-Generation Jammer program.
“There is no next-generation jammer, per se, for us,” says Goldfein. “There are capabilities that we’re looking for, but there’s no program of record. I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface on AESA. We haven’t got it on the F-35 yet so that we can wring it out, but I think it is going to have tremendous capability for both electronic attack and protection.”
The capability allows aircrews to find, avoid and neutralize enemy emitters on the battlefield. RPAs are also certain to be part of the offensive mix, ACC officials say. Rather than working toward a single, elegant but expensive solution, they are looking for multiple ways of attacking a foe electronically.
Whether the Air Force can successfully turn its fifth- and sixth-generation aircraft into a combination ISR, electronic attack, strike and AWACS aircraft is also an issue of perspective.
“The first day of Desert Storm [Jan. 16, 1991], I rolled in an F-16 with dumb bombs,” says Goldfein. “Ten years later I was rolling into Kosovo with laser-guided bombs with all kinds of data coming into the cockpit. Now we’re far more capable than we were then.”
Nevertheless, some of the most pressing needs for operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Southwest Asia are pretty prosaic.

A tour in theater for the F-22 was more about gathering data on operating in a dry, high-temperature, fine-sand situation for an extended period and less about functioning in a different electromagnetic environment.
Ironically, the big three issues in the Middle East are maintainability, supportability and commonality. These lessons from the F-22 are already being rolled into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“We have more panels for maintenance access that you don’t have in the F-22,” says Goldfein. “You don’t have to refinish the [low-observable] surface. The radar is much more capable. And the architecture is much more versatile for accepting upgrades.”
The next generation of aircraft will follow an incremental approach.
“It will be logical, sustainable and affordable,” says Goldfein. “Long-range strike, sixth-generation fighter and follow-ons to the MC-12 and MQ-1/9 will have evolutionary but multiple capabilities, such as ISR and electronic attack and protection, and strike.”
However, weaponry and sensors for the current Afghan conflict are not all esoteric.
“The requests I have been getting are in the arena of limited-effect kinetic weapons that are all-weather, day/night, high precision and low collateral damage,” says Goldfein.
Specifically, troops want bombs that create grenade-size explosions without fragmentation that can make the best use of intelligence by destroying a very small area—perhaps one room in a house.
“We have been doing that with different warhead fills and putting a composite body on the weapon and delivering it with a laser,” says Andersen. “We find that the energy dissipates in single-digit feet instead of going out to 40-50 ft.”
Those small, air-launched weapons of 250 lb. or less also would allow an increase in the number of bombs that an aircraft can drop. Or it could carry the same number of bombs, but the decrease in payload weight would allow unmanned aircraft to fly higher, faster and farther.
“We’re working on the capabilities document for the follow-on to the MQ-9 [Reaper],” says Goldfein. “If you line up the master schedules, it’s a capability that is delivered in 2020. You’ll hear modularity, sustainability, affordability, and it will be built with the idea of operations in civil airspace with see-and-avoid, for example. It will be much more suited for bad weather and operate in the mid-altitudes around 20,000-30,000 ft. It could be weaponized and carry sensors, and it would have to be monitored. Stealth will be an affordability issue. It will probably be difficult.”
But recent low-intensity conflicts offer clues about how advanced unmanned aircraft may be used in large-scale future wars.
ACC officials learned a lot from Israel’s attack on Syria in 2007 and Russia’s attack on Georgia in 2008. Some of it was exotic and some of it was basic EW blocking and tackling, they say. Georgia had an unintegrated air defense network. But the Russians did not develop an electronic order of battle and flew unbriefed into Georgian air defense. Another piece of evidence is that Israel is planning for its communications and military networks to be disabled by electronic attack.
“We also are making sure that we can still fight with our networks degraded,” Andersen says. “If I lose my connectivity to locations in the [combat area], how do I continue to deliver [critical information]? There are a couple of major projects that commanders are focused on. One that reported out at the four-star and service-secretary level was the ability to operate in denied environments. That includes the survival or quick reconstruction of data links and secure or insecure communications. Other priorities are the ability to tie into command-and-control systems, the coordination of real-time decision-making and the ability to adjust to dynamic targets.”

Photo: General Atomics

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