AFRL Moves Ahead on Bunker-Buster for F-35

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The US Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded two more contracts under the High Velocity Penetrating Weapon (HVPW) program to develop technology for a rocket-boosted bunker-buster that can fit inside an F-35.

Lockheed Martin has been awarded $1.7 million and MBDA $1.3 million, but what they will do for the money has not been revealed. In January, Raytheon received an $11 million contract to develop GPS-degraded guidance technology for the HVPW, including anti-jam GPS, angle-of-attack sensing and RF seeker.Graphics: US Air Force

AFRL's High Velocity Penetrating Weapon Flagship Capability Concept (FCC) is intended to reduce the risk in several key areas for a future hard-target munitions acquisition. The FCC will not integrate all the sub-components developed into a full-up round, but is expected to pave the way for a demonstrator program beginning in FY2014. The FCC is planned to culminate in a sled-track demonstration of the ordnance package in FY13.

As conceived, the HVPW is a solid-rocket-boosted 2,000lb-class weapon with the penetration of a 5,000lb gravity bomb, design for internal carriage in an F-35 and also able to  increase the load-out on other bombers and fighters.

The US Air Force clearly sees the need for a new bunker-buster and tunnel-trasher, as AFRL's budget for HVPW was "plused up" to $35 million in FY12 and 13 to get technologies ready in key areas such as fuze and warhead survivability, anti-jam GPS, terminal seeker, angle-of-attack sensing and propulsion.

Contracts are being awarded in four research areas: ordnance technologies able to survive and function after a high-speed boosted impact into a hard target; guidance methodologies that provide maximum penetration and minimum miss distance; propulsion technologies that increase the terminal speed of the penetrator; and conceptual design of a next-generation air-launched weapon to attack hardened targets.

It's not an easy task, AFRL says. The angle of obliquity to the target and angle of attack of the weapon at impact are both critical and must be controlled closely to ensure maximum penetration and fuze survival. But boosting the weapon with a rocket can introduce issues with thrust misalignment, control authority, acceleration and vibration that must be overcome.

As to why this is all being done, the chart below from a recent Air Force presentation shows the trend towards high-value, hard-to-penetrate bunkers and tunnel complexes that future hard-and-buried-target munitions must be able to defeat.

 

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