Dominating the skies is a promising start to winning a war – and that is what the US is betting on
The United States is always working on better and more destructive weapons . They are designed to prevent and, if necessary, win a war against any other nation. Many of these high- tech projects could be used in an eventual World War III.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – DARPA, the Pentagon’s scientific organization – began work on a small drone that expands the range of an AIM-120 missile. The Flying Missile Rail (FMR) could help fighters, the Air Force and the US Navy , combine and even exceed the ever-widening range of Russian and Chinese missiles . The latest AIM-120 has a range of 160 kilometers. The China is testing an air combat long-range missile that apparently can fly up to 321 km.
Perhaps equally important, Air Force program manager and colonel Jimmy Jones wants the robotic launcher to be cheap and easy to produce, so that the military can quickly manufacture hundreds of them just in time for a major fight.
DARPA released its request for proposals for the Flying Missile Rail in early September 2017. The agency’s idea is to spend $ 375,000 next year, developing and testing a prototype.
The initiative is a response to the increasing cost and complexity of new warplanes. If the military is unable to build a new manned fighter quickly and cheaply, perhaps they can equip existing planes with robotic tracks to make them more deadly in combat .
For this, DARPA has two plans: to develop a design for the Flying Missile Rail, while also developing a process to produce copies of the rail at a rate of 500 units per month. By comparison, the Air Force and Navy jointly ordered only 325 AIM-120 for 2018 – a production rate of around 27 missiles per month.
Ideally, the FMR will be able to do more than just launch a missile. “An FMR is a device that can optionally remain on the wing of an F-16 or F-18 host aircraft and release an AIM-120 missile or, alternatively, fly away from the host aircraft, acting as a reinforcement and extending the range of an AIM-120, small diameter pump or special payload capsule, “wrote Jones.
The track must be compatible with the hardwing points existing in the Air Force F-16 and in the Navy F / A-18. It must also have space for radio and antenna, so that the track can communicate with the launcher fighter.
Jones stated that the FMR could share technology with the Air Force’s Loyal Wingman program – which modifies the old F-16s for autonomous flights – as well as the Fifth Generation Air Target effort, which is developing a stealthy and inexpensive drone that can, in theory, provide combat capabilities.
The Air Force is also working with the drone maker, Kratos, on the so-called “Attributable Low Cost Aircraft” (LCAA), which aims to produce a small jet-armed drone with the same ease of production as the FMR. The idea is to be able to buy lots of one hundred LCAAs at a cost of approximately two F-35 fighters, or US $ 300 million.
The Pentagon has been working with the “arsenal plane” concept, which involves drones or manned fighters flying ahead, and assigning targets for heavy bombers that carry dozens of missiles. Drones and fighters act as fast and agile sensors, capable of surviving enemy defenses. Bombers are out of danger, waiting for command to fire missile dams.
Combining all of these efforts, it is clear where the US Air Force is headed. In the coming years, vast swarms of drones could go into combat, alongside manned fighters, each carrying their own smaller drones, armed with their missiles. Everyone would be in contact with distant arsenal planes, with drones and additional missiles.
The result would be a much more heavily armed squadron, capable of hitting targets with greater range, while exposing fewer pilots to enemy fire. And here’s the first step – this more lethal form of airpower can actually be cheaper.