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Air Force Close To Test Firing Low-Cost Cruise Missile As Work On Swarming Munitions Progresses

The goal is then to move on to tests of a modified ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD), referred to as the Collaborative Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (CMALD). A B-52 bomber is set to be the test launch platform for those networked decoys.

“With all the talk about artificial intelligence and other things in ‘Terminator‘ movies … [there’s] certainly some trepidation of what independent capability a weapon may have,” Air Force Colonel Garry Hasse, head of AFRL’s Munitions Directorate, told Defense News.

“[Mission planners] would give information to the weapon on an appropriate engagement zone, where it would be considered proper for the weapon to engage targets … and they would give the weapons information on known targets in that zone,” Norma Taylor, the Golden Horde Program manager, also explained to Defense News. “But if they have some idea that there might be other targets out there that they don’t know, they will give the weapon some information in terms of priorities, so that if you come across a higher-priority target that’s in the authorized engagement zone, then you have permission to change your assignment.”

Technologies to enable increased autonomy in various systems, combined with developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, is a steadily expanding field of interest broadly within the Air Force, as well as across the U.S. military as a whole. You can read more about potential autonomous concepts of operation for munitions, as well as unmanned aircraft, in this past War Zone feature.

“One of the important aspects of the networking aspect of the technology is the ability to send information to the weapon while it’s in flight and give it a new mission download, so to speak,” she continued. “But the important thing is to realize that whether it’s preprogrammed in mission planning or whether it’s a mission update to your flight, the operators are still required to provide the weapon those rules of engagement are on, where they can and can’t engage, and what their mission priorities are.”

Of course, Golden Horde isn’t expected to be limited to munitions carrying out kinetic strikes. The swarms could also include other air-launched stores, including decoys, such as the CMALD, which could carry electronic warfare packages to jam or otherwise confuse enemy air defenders, potentially drawing their attention away from a main line of attack or otherwise spreading their forces thin across a wide area. The Air Force hopes to test CSDB-1s and CMALDs together in 2022.


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