The U.S. Air Force’s Golden Horde Vanguard program finished the last flight test of the Collaborative Small Diameter Bomb I (CSDB I) on May 25 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) said.
During the third and final May 25 flight test, as in the January and February demonstrations, the CSDBs established data link communications with one another, as two Air Force Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-16s from the 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla. simultaneously released the weapons–four from one aircraft and two from the other, AFRL said.
The CSDBs use autonomous technology developed by AFRL and California-based Scientific Applications and Research Associates, Inc. (SARA), which received a $100 million contract for CSDB-I in 2019. As part of Golden Horde, Georgia Tech Applied Research Corp. (GTARC) also received an $85 million contract for a Collaborative Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (CMALD) in 2019.
CSDBs are 250-pound Boeing [BA] GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs modified with the collaborative autonomy payload to locate and prioritize targets.
AFRL said that the May 25 flight test accomplished its three objectives–the increase in networked weapons from four to six using the L3HarrisTechnologies [LHX] Banshee 2 radio network; the In-Flight Target Update sent from a ground station to weapons in flight to engage a new, high priority target, thus demonstrating the capacity of Golden Horde to link up with the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) environment; and the execution by two CSDBs of a synchronized time on target (STOT) attack on a target.
“Two other weapons were synchronized on two targets, which was also demonstrated on the second test mission,” AFRL said. “Georgia Tech Research Institute’s STOT algorithm was able to flexibly support the new target requirement without any software changes.”
Air Force Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, the commander of AFRL, said in a statement that “these technologies are completely changing the way we think about weapon capabilities, much like the laser-guided bomb did several decades ago.”
AFRL plans had called for a collaboration this fall between CSDB-I and CMALD to defeat simulated targets, but AFRL decided not to pursue that demonstration and to shift toward a more generic approach that does not feature specific weapons in keeping with congressional concern about Golden Horde being too mature a program to receive science and technology funding (Defense Daily, Jan. 28).
Under the new, generic “Colosseum” approach, the AFRL Munitions Directorate is to collaborate with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Weapons Program Executive Office and Eglin AFB’s 96th Test Wing to “implement digital engineering, hardware-in-the-loop, and surrogate UAV testing to rapidly integrate, develop, and test transformational NCA [networked, collaborative and autonomous] weapon technologies for future warfighting opportunities,” AFRL said.
The Golden Horde demonstrations used datalink radios to 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,” AFRL has said. “The program is to mark a change from the typical pre-designated missions of weapon systems to missions using a Playbook of set plays under defined Rules of Engagement.”
In January, the Golden Horde program marked a signature event, as an F-16 released two CSDBs in what the Air Force called the first-ever flight demonstration of collaborative weapons (Defense Daily, Jan. 7).