By Michael Sirak

FT. WALTON BEACH, Fla.–A small-sized, air-delivered precision munition weighing only about 30 pounds that could be carried by many classes of manned and unmanned aircraft is of great interest to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the colonel overseeing the command’s fixed-wing aircraft programs said here last week.

“For us, we have got problems both from a collateral damage perspective and weight,” Air Force Col. Jim Geurts, SOCOM’s program executive officer for Fixed Wing Aircraft, said Oct. 10 in describing the command’s desire for the new weapon. “If I want to get the same weapon on UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] and on aircraft and on whatever else, I can’t have a couple-hundred-pound weapon.

“So for us,” he continued, “we are driving down in the 30-pound class. Thirty pounds with accuracy can get [done] what we need to get done. If we need a big boom, then we will call the Air Force.”

Geurts spoke on the first day of the 33rd Air Armament Symposium that the National Defense Industrial Association sponsored together with the Air Force’s Air Armament Center that is headquartered at nearby Eglin AFB, Fla.

Driving SOCOM’s interest in the mini munition are the command’s unique requirements for weapons that produce very low collateral effects, he said.

“Our idea of low collateral damage is the guy in the truck evaporates and the two trucks next to him don’t get blown out and the windows in the house don’t get blown out,” he said.

Because of this, the Air Force’s new GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), a 250-pound class, GPS-guidance-aided munition built by Boeing [BA] that is comparatively smaller than contemporary all-weather bombs “is not a low-collateral-damage weapon” by the standards of special operations forces, Geurts said.

In addition to the small munition, SOCOM is interested in a family of enhanced miniaturized sensors that could be used across many of the unmanned aircraft in its inventory, Geurts said.

Besides a mixed fleet of manned, fixed-wing aircraft that SOCOM operates, which includes AC-130 gunships, a family of MC-130 covert infiltration aircraft and a small fleet of light transports, the command also operates many types of unmanned platforms. The latter group, Geurts said, is like “a petting zoo,” meaning there are many classes of them ranging in size from small, hand-launched designs to much larger air vehicles like the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and the Global Observer. Yet each type is represented by relatively small numbers, he said.

“I would love to take the Predator-class sensor and put it on a hand-held UAV,” he said. “With every UAV comes its own sensor suite. That is pretty inefficient. If I have got 10 of them each, all forward, trying to get them all supported doesn’t work real well. So just like we are trying to get weapons, we are trying to get that sensor family converted down into something that is both common and supportable.”

SOCOM would also like to possess a suite of roll-on/roll-off intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that could be easily exchanged between aircraft to configure them optimally for a given mission, Geurts said.

“That would be of a lot of value to us because mission flexibility is huge,” he said. “We don’t have a big enough fleet to [give] every airplane…its little old niche. We are trying to ‘multi-mission’ as much as we can.”

Geurts said SOCOM also continues to welcome any enhancements that would improve the lethality of the AC-130s.

“That is a resource that is always called upon,” he said. “We can never get enough of them forward, so anything we can do there, whether it is shooting other weapons out of the 105 [howitzer], getting better guns on it, getting better sensors on it, we spend a lot of time and energy there.”