Congressional defense authorizers have proposed significant reductions to the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Golden Horde program in fiscal 2021.

The Air Force has three science and technology (S&T) Vanguard programs–Skyborg, Golden Horde, and Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3). Skyborg is to integrate artificial intelligence into autonomous unmanned air vehicles to enable future manned-unmanned teaming, while Golden Horde is to demonstrate collaborative autonomous networked weapons that share data and collaborate to defeat targets. NTS-3 is to explore new GPS receivers that incorporate multiple signals for military forces.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill, S. 4049, proposes a $50 million trimming of the Air Force’s $157.6 million request for the programs. Specifically, the committee report on the bill said that Golden Horde is “too mature for [a] science and technology prototype.”

“The committee recognizes the importance of programs that support the transition of promising innovative science and technology programs into formal acquisition or operational use,” the report said. “The committee notes that these efforts are more appropriately funded outside of the limited funding available for science and technology efforts themselves.” As a result, the committee proposes re-allocating the $50 million “to high priority science and technology activities in support of the National Defense Strategy.”

The committee said that such S&T and other research and development efforts would help the U.S. compete militarily with China and Russia and include such areas as hypersonics, unmanned surface vessels, 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and missile and defense efforts, such as the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS).

The House Armed Services Committee’ s version of the bill, H.R. 6395, would decrease funding for the Air Force Vanguard programs by $30 million because of what bill language called the proposal’s “inappropriate use of S&T funding for Golden Horde demonstration and validation.”

Golden Horde is to integrate datalink radios and demonstrate the ability of a “swarm” of networked weapons systems to collaborate to decrease target error and defeat targets while adapting to changes in the field. The program is to mark a change from the typical pre-designated missions of weapon systems, AFRL said.

Golden Horde uses “a collaborative autonomy approach referred to as ‘play calling,'” according to AFRL. “A ‘play’ is an established collaborative behavior enabled (or disabled) when certain predefined conditions are met by the swarm. Golden Horde uses a collection of plays called a Playbook. Loaded prior to the mission, the Playbook provides a choice of plays from which the weapons can choose. Golden Horde does not use artificial intelligence or machine learning to make determinations independently regarding which targets to strike. The system only selects from set plays and cannot violate defined Rules of Engagement.”

The program includes integration efforts by California-based Scientific Applications and Research Associates, Inc. (SARA) for a Collaborative Small Diameter Bomb I (CSDB-I) and by Georgia Tech Applied Research Corp. (GTARC) for a Collaborative Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (CMALD). Last year, SARA and GTARC received $100 million and $85 million contracts, respectively, for Golden Horde.

AFRL plans call for demonstrations to begin late this year and for a collaboration between CSDB-I and CMALD to defeat simulated targets in the fall of next year.