MBDA Advancing Collaborative Technologies For Future Weapons

MBDA orchestrike
Credit: MBDA

LE BOURGET—European missile manufacturer MBDA is developing artificial intelligence technology that could allow missiles to better collaborate amongst themselves to strike targets.

The company’s Orchestrike technology moves beyond the principle of networked-enabled weapons that allow for inflight retargeting.

Through Orchestrike, multiple weapons will be able to communicate their status and position to each other­—allowing them to fly in formations that will reduce their vulnerability to air defenses. If a missile tasked with a high-priority target is shot down, then another from the formation will take over and engage that target, avoiding the need to launch a new salvo of missiles.

The current focus of the Orchestrike technology is around air-to-ground missions, but MBDA believes that it can also be adapted for air-to-air, anti-shipping and air defense, as well as long-range, ground-launched deep fires.

“With Orchestrike, the missiles are clever enough to adapt their reaction to the tactical situation,” Paul Houot, MBDA’s product line executive for tactical strike, tells journalists on the first day of the Paris Air Show.

Given the rapid advancements in air defenses, MBDA expects future swarms of long-range standoff weapons to be supported by additive capabilities such as the UK-developed SPEAR-EW electronic warfare decoy—or, in the future, electronic warfare-capable expendable remote carriers associated with the European Future Combat Air System (FCAS).

These would be the eyes and ears of the swarm, listening out for emerging threats and then providing potential alternative routes or strike options to the human­—usually the lead pilot in the strike package.

“Like a conductor of an orchestra, the pilot will remain in charge and make the big decisions, but the algorithms will provide the options to the pilot,” Houot says.

MBDA already has developed a simulator to demonstrate the Orchestrike algorithms, which is being demonstrated here at the show. The bigger challenge, however, will be to develop the datalinks in the weapons that facilitate constant communication with others even in a constrained electromagnetic environment.

The expectation is that the larger, remote-carrier platforms may need beyond visual line-of-sight communication links such as satellite connections, so that data can be linked back to the fighter to enable the mission commander to make decisions. Data from the smaller missiles would be transmitted to the remote carriers to maintain those connections—a significant technical challenge in small weapons already packed with electronics, guidance, seekers and warheads.

Although Orchestrike is focused on the future European combat aircraft programs such as FCAS, as well as the British, Italian and Japanese Global Combat Air Program, MBDA also is ascertaining whether Orchestrike could gain traction earlier from customer nations flying the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale.

The Rafale is due to receive more collaborative capabilities in the future F5 upgrade, to which MBDA says Orchestrike could be a natural fit. MBDA believes the technology could suit new-generation stand-off weapons such as the Smartglider family of bombs and the UK’s SPEAR 3 family of powered, small cruise missiles.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.