DARPA Eyes New Weapon Concepts In 2021 Program Plans
A multi-target air-to-air weapon and gun-armed close-support missile are among new projects DARPA plans to launch in fiscal 2021. New approaches to communicating in contested environments, attacking signals and countering laser weapons are also on the list.
The Defense Department is seeking $3.57 billion in funding for its advanced research projects agency in 2021, an increase of just over 3% from 2020.
Among the projects planned for initiation in 2021 is LongShot, for which DARPA is seeking $22 million. LongShot will demonstrate an air-launched weapon system that will use a slower-speed, longer-range air vehicle for transit to the engagement zone where it will launch multiple air-to-air missiles.
The weapon will be carried externally on existing fighters or internally on bombers. Multi-mode propulsion will significantly increase engagement range while allowing air-to-air missiles to be launched closer to their targets, reducing reaction time and increasing terminal energy and kill probability.
LongShot appears to be a follow-on to the Flying Missile Rail concept revealed by DARPA in 2017. This was a device carrying a pair of AIM-120 air-to-air missiles that could remain under the wing of and F-16 or F/A-18 or fly away from the host aircraft, acting as a booster to extend the range of the missiles.
“LongShot will explore new engagement concepts for multi-modal, multi-kill systems that can engage more than one target,” according to DARPA budget documents. Fiscal 2021 funding would take the program through to a preliminary design review for the demonstration system.
DARPA is seeking $13.3 million for begin the Gunslinger program to demonstrate a tactical-range weapon that will combine the maneuverability of a missile with ability of a gun to engage different types of target. Envisioned missions are close air support, counter insurgency and air-to-air engagements.
Metrics for the system are total range, including transit, loiter and engagement, as well as effectiveness, according to the documents. Development of such a missile system will require vehicle concepts that have the aerodynamic, propulsion and payload to enable a wide operational envelope, says DARPA.
Gunslinger will also require “algorithms that support maneuvering and target recognition to enable expedited command decision making for selecting and engaging targets, and approaches to incorporating modularity of design to reduce cost,” the documents say.
DARPA is seeking $15.1 million in 2021 for another new project, Counter High Energy Lasers (C-HEL), which aims to develop a system to detect, locate and disrupt energy laser weapons before they can inflict irreversible damage.
The project will study novel sensors, protective materials and obscurants as well as optical and kinetic defeat systems. Fiscal 2021 funding would take the project through the conceptual design review for an initial operational C-HEL system and field testing of protective coatings.
Developing small photonic terminals that can establish high-bandwidth communications links between microsatellites and mobile platforms is the goal of Portable Optical Integrated Network Transceivers (POINT), a new project for which $9.2 million is sought in 2021.
Existing optical terminals with gimballed telescopes are too large for microsatellites, and POINT will leverage the recent developments in optical phased-array transmitters to develop transceivers with no moving parts, dramatically reducing their size, weight and power requirements.
Providing tactical beyond-line-of-sight communications in an anti-access/area-denial environment by deploying low-cost expendable repeaters ground vehicles, unmanned aircraft, high-altitude platforms and low-orbiting satellites is the goal of the new Resilient Networked Distributed Multi-Transceiver Communications (RNDMC) project, for which $7.4 million is sought in 2021.
Proportional Weapons, for which $6 million is sought in 2021, is a new project to develop a real-time capability to tune the effects of families of munitions to be able to breach a structure, or clear an area, while minimizing collateral damage. “Novel approaches are needed that are absolutely effective from the air or ground against several scales of primarily urban, concealed threats while not being catastrophically destructive,” say DARPA budget documents.
Other new projects for fiscal 2021 include: Dynamic Airspace Control ($13.7 million), to develop ways to surveil and manage local airspace without using high-power radar; Non-Kinetic Effects ($7.5 million), to develop new electronic-warfare systems to sense, attack and also protect signals; and Port Defense ($7.4 million), to use expendable unmanned undersea vehicles for mine countermeasures.