The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) said on Aug. 17 that it concluded its Dialable Effects Munition (DEM) demonstration program with a test of the experimental, three-setting 2,000 pound bomb on July 28.
“This new capability will give the Department of the Air Force the ability to prosecute targets more effectively in high-end fights, which equates to greater mission flexibility,” AFRL said.
AFRL has been working on a Joint Concept Technology Demonstration (JCTD) with the Navy since 2018 on the AFRL-developed DEM that would allow pilots to dial up or down a munition’s power before weapons release–for example “wide area effects” for a truck convoy with no civilians present or a narrow effect in which there is a significant risk of civilian casualties (Defense Daily, Jan. 29).
DEM warhead and fusing technology is to be incorporated into multiple warheads and weapons to allow strike pilots more flexibility and reduce collateral damage during dynamic targeting situations.
AFRL said that the 2,000 pound DEM allows pilots to choose among three weapons effects: an Area Attack setting for detonation high above the target when collateral damage “is not an issue”; a Precise Lethal Footprint setting for lower detonation around a small area to ensure low-collateral damage; and a Surface Target Perforation setting for detonation after the bomb penetrates a structure.
Boeing [BA] builds the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kit for DEM, while Faxon Machining and L3Harris Technologies [LHX] build other parts, including the pre-formed fragment warhead case, an electronic safe and arm device, distributed embedded firesets and a precision height-of-burst sensor. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command has also helped develop DEM, per AFRL.
During the July 28th DEM live test–the munition’s first, an F-16 pilot from the 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla. programmed a Precise Lethal Footprint attack, and the DEM “achieved the mission as planned with evidence of its effectiveness visible throughout the target area,” per AFRL. Previous testing has validated DEM’s other two settings, AFRL said.
While the lab highlighted DEM’s possible utility in conflicts with Russia or China, the munition may prove of benefit in lower-end conflicts as well.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, the commander of AFRL, said in February that AFRL had been working to integrate DEM technologies for the 558-pound Boeing JDAM and the laser-guided GBU-54 JDAM to enhance dynamic targeting and reduce civilian casualties, as seen during Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against the ISIS terrorist group in Iraq and Syria (Defense Daily, Feb. 9).
“Although DEM continues testing, its fuzing, explosives, warhead, and sensors have transitioned to several weapons programs, where they are already increasing effectiveness and survivability,” AFRL said on Aug. 17. “While the technology is useful in weapons of many sizes, a large form factor will give the Department of the Air Force a unitary weapon that performs as well or better than current cluster munitions; albeit, without the concerns of unexploded ordnance or UXO.”
In addition, DEM “can fill the role of three or more different weapons streamlines the logistics footprint, which has positive implications for costs, storage and time,” per AFRL.
Joe Letsinger, the senior scientific technical manager at AFRL’s Munitions Directorate, said in a statement that “ultimately, this technology will enable future systems to dynamically assign targets based on real-time information during a mission.”
Limited numbers of low-collateral (LOCO) damage munitions, such as variants of the GBU-38 and GBU-54, led to unenviable choices for strike planners during OIR–choices which have led to decisions that caused civilian casualties, particularly in cities (Defense Daily, Jan. 19).
One such incident occurred on March 17, 2017 when the U.S. conducted an airstrike using a GBU-38 against two snipers on the second floor of a building in the al-Jadidah neighborhood of West Mosul, Iraq during Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against ISIS. The GBU-38, which had a delayed fuse, killed the snipers but also set off explosives planted by ISIS, thus causing the deaths of more than 100 civilians, DoD said in a 2017 after-action report. Inclement weather had prevented the use of full-motion video (FMV) monitoring of the building for two days before the strike, and information provided to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) before the strike conflicts on whether there was, or was not, a high-risk of civilian casualties (CIVCAS). CENTCOM did no formal or informal collateral damage estimation just before the strike.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler, who, while on active duty was the investigating officer for the March 17, 2017 incident and directed OIR’s Joint Air Component Coordination Element, said in documents released last year by CENTCOM under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that then-Army Brig. Gen. John Richardson, the Target Engagement Authority at the time at Camp Erbil, Iraq “was unaware that over 100 civilians were in the structure.”
Targeting planners did not conduct an informal CDE of the building just before the airstrike because of the immediacy of the threat of the two snipers to Iraqi Counterterrorism Services forces within 65 meters of the building and because analysis had indicated that there was a low probability of civilians in the building, Richardson said in the FOIA-released documents.
Had Richardson known of the large number of civilians in the building, he would not have approved the strike, per Isler, who said that he advised a change in tactics, techniques and procedures to reduce possible “CIVCAS entrapment” casualties after the March 17, 2017 airstrike (Defense Daily, Jan. 19).
Last month, Richardson, now a major general, became the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.
“Because Mosul was a dense urban environment and ISIS was intentionally using civilians as human shields, the coalition demonstrated a preference for [the Boeing] GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb (a 250-pound precision glide bomb) and the employment of delayed fuses (i.e., letting the bomb bury below the ground before detonating to reduce the yield),” per a RAND Project Air Force report this year, The Air War Against the Islamic State: The Role of Airpower in Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Weaponeering was supplemented by other process measures, such as requiring FMV to confirm no civilian presence at the target site and strict use of collateral damage estimates,” the report said. “As DoD investigations and independent reporting show, these approaches could not eliminate civilian casualties in the operation. However, these approaches—along with required collateral-damage estimates—did mitigate civilian casualties, a goal that was a point of emphasis in almost every interview conducted for this study.”
Overall, the joint force should improve its targeting, per the RAND Project Air Force report.
“The joint force should look to reinvigorate and reexamine the target-development process to identify bottlenecks and develop ways to make it more efficient and faster,” the study said. “As a part of this process, the joint force should consider whether recent practices, such as a certain number of uninterrupted hours of FMV, are a sensible requirement for target development and authorization. In OIR, the coalition benefited from time to refine its targeting processes, but it is likely to lack this luxury in future wars against more-capable adversaries.”