Military Embedded Systems

Kill Web technology update


June 30, 2021

Ray Alderman

VITA Technologies

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG: There’s been a number of advancements in technology going into the Kill Web lately but none of them, individually, would warrant a focused article unless I overhyped their potential, wildly speculated about their capabilities, or just made-up some stuff. That approach could seriously jeopardize my standing as an amateur blogger and irritate my publisher. So, let’s avoid that possibility and briefly cover a few of the developments here.

As we review each one, look at where they fit into the 5F Kill Web model: find (identify), fix (track), fire, finish, and feedback. If we use that model, it will organize them into a convenient taxonomy, simplify any technical complexity, avoid information overload, and enhance your understanding of how and where they might be used.

On 25 May, the U.S. Air Force conducted a test of swarming munitions (called "Golden Horde”) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Two F-16 fighter planes dropped six CSDBs (Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs, GBU-39s weighing 250 lbs each). After being dropped from the planes, these bombs sprouted small wings, connected together on the Banshee-2 radio network, and headed for their programmed target coordinates as gravity-powered gliders. While in flight, ground controllers sent new target coordinates, through the Banshee radio network, to two of the bombs and they changed their trajectory. Additionally, controllers sent synchronized-time-on-target instructions to two other bombs, for them to hit a single target at the same time. The two remaining bombs were instructed to hit two different targets, at the same time. All designated targets were hit according to the new instructions.

Most smart bombs use lasers, infrared, radar, or GPS to hit predetermined targets. This is the first time that bombs could talk to ground controllers and each other, and change course to hit new targets on their way down. Obviously, this development fits into the fire segment of the 5F model. The bombs did not find new targets on their own, so they don’t fit into the find (identify) or fix (track) phases. Other systems accomplished that task and sent the new coordinates to them. This new concept allows fighter planes to drop their bombs over a hostile area (called “the basket”), depart, and let the controllers attack enemy targets of opportunity. That significantly reduces the time between the find and fix phases, and the fire phase.

To read more Warfare Evolution Blogs by Ray Alderman, click here.

In early June, a Boeing MQ-25 Stingray unmanned drone refueled a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter plane while flying over Southern Illinois. The planes were 20 feet apart, and the Navy wanted to see how the tanker-drone’s flight controls and fuel dispensing system would work during the process. The autonomous flight controls compensated as the drone offloaded fuel and became lighter, and the fuel went into the fighter plane's tanks

Next, they have to launch the MQ-25 tanker from a carrier deck, refuel a fighter plane at sea, and recover the tanker and the fighter plane. The Super Hornet has a combat radius of about 450 miles. Drone air refueling can extend the F/A-18’s combat radius to hit enemy targets further inland. The MQ-25 doesn’t fit into any phase of the 5F Kill Web model cleanly, but it does enhance the capabilities of the F/A-18 fighter, so let’s put this as an adjunct to the fire phase. You can decide for yourself why they did this test for the first time over populated areas in Illinois rather than over Lake Michigan.

Back in November 2020, the Navy converted a commercial 193-foot fast-supply ship to fully autonomous operation, launched it in Mobile, Alabama, sent it across the Gulf of Mexico, out into the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and out into the Pacific. It’s an ugly-looking ship, but it traveled 5,400 miles in 18 days and docked at Port Hueneme, California. As part of the Navy’s “Ghost Fleet” program, this ship was the first unmanned surface vessel to travel through the Panama Canal, and it didn’t go sideways and block the canal like the container ship did in the Suez Canal back in March. This boat ran autonomously 97% of the time. The remaining 3%, under human control, was probably getting out of Mobile harbor, going through the canal, and docking in Port Hueneme.

What the Navy proved was that their autonomous navigation and propulsion-control systems worked, in a traditional-hulled boat. Now, they need to design efficient futuristic hulls for specific missions. This is part of the Navy’s plans for MUSV (medium unmanned surface vessels) and LUSV (large unmanned surface vessels) ships in the future. The MUSV could be outfitted with radar and sonar systems, to find enemy ships, mines, and submarines on the open seas and radio-back their coordinates to weapons on other ships. The LUSV could be equipped with weapons onboard (missiles, torpedoes). So, these platforms could eventually fit into all five phases of the Kill Web model.

What could an LUSV look like? It might be a large flat-decked partially-submerged "missile barge." We presently have four SSGN nuclear submarines that carry 154 TLAMs each (Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles), so putting about 150 missiles on such a barge seems possible. How would they be used? Let’s say our intelligence collections indicate that China is planning to invade Taiwan, so we park about 20 of these autonomous boats about 100 miles off their southern coast. When the Chinese start loading their landing craft for the amphibious operation, these barges could pop-open their hatches on command. Then they could fire 3,000 missiles, from multiple launchers in a few minutes, at all the harbors, military communications centers, airfields, fuel storage tanks, and supply depots in South China without any American or Taiwanese sailors being in danger.

Also in early June, the Air Force mounted new IRST (infrared search and track) pods on an F-15 fighter plane. This will allow fighter pilots to passively find, identify, fix, and track enemy aircraft from extended ranges quickly and with high resolution. Then, the pilots can engage the targets with long-range air-to-air missiles without giving-away their presence with their radar. The IRST pods also contain new communications gear, so they can share targeting data with other platforms in the Kill Web mesh network. Obviously, this development fits into the find (identify) and fix (track) phases.

I have mentioned RCS (radar cross section) measurements many times in previous articles. They define the observability (signature) of different aircraft and I was remiss in not informing you about how those measurements were taken. So now is probably a good time to tell you about RAT-55. That’s the call sign for the Air Force’s secretive "Radar Aircraft Testbed," which is what RAT stands for. It is the most grotesque Boeing 737 airplane you will ever see, with a bulbous nose and horribly deformed tail. Occasionally, it has been glimpsed around Area-51, the Mojave Desert, and the Tonopah Test Range.

Area-51 has a facility that does RCS evaluation of aircraft sitting on the ground, which is probably where they tested the U-2, SR-71, F-117, and B-2 bomber, but those are static measurements. RAT-55 is packed with advanced electronics that can send-out a myriad of radar frequencies, waveforms, and pulse rates from many different angles (aspects) and distances in the air, receive the reflections, and determine how truly stealthy our fighter planes and bombers are to enemy radar systems. That’s dynamic testing and more revealing. This plane also carries advanced IR (infrared) sensors, to evaluate the thermal signature of an aircraft from its engine exhaust.

Measurements taken by RAT-55 feed-back to the aeronautical engineers designing the airframes for next-generation air dominance fighter planes (NGAD), engineers designing stealthy drones (XQ-58, ATS, RQ-180), and the folks building the new B-21 Raider flying-wing bomber. They may feed-back the data to the people designing the threat-library algorithms (countermeasures) that spoof enemy anti-aircraft radar systems too. Obviously, RAT-55 fits into the Find (identify) and Fix (track) phases, but in a different way.

Northrop-Grumman just finished building two of the new B-21 Raider bombers. After taxi and ground testing, you might see them in flight testing near Area-51, with an ugly 737 flying nearby. The present RAT-55 platform is 50 years old and its electronics have been upgraded many times. A new 737 aircraft, with bright green coatings on the aluminum, was seen flying into the Tonopah Test Range recently. That suggests that a new, more advanced RAT-55 platform might be under construction.

There are many more recent announcements about new technologies going into the Kill Web, but as an amateur blogger, I don’t have the space or the financial incentives to cover them here. The examples used above should be adequate, to give you a basic idea about what’s happening in the Kill Web's evolution.

By the time you read this article, the Pentagon has released their much-anticipated unclassified UFO report. We’ll review that, but it won’t tell us anything that would warrant a focused article. To fill the remaining space, we’ll explore a robotic lobster (named “Butter”) and how it can crawl out of the surf, instantly and quietly kill enemy shore patrol guards with darts coated with a synthetic version of sea snake poison, map enemy positions further inland, jam enemy communications, and radio-back to the SEALs and Marines where to come ashore safely. Reading about Butter will be a lot more fun than reading about the UFO report.


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