Penetrate faster, harder with new AFRL weapon

My trip to Brazil has been unexpectedly delayed by an unplanned, extended pit-stop in Caracas, where my Boeing 767 is currently parked with a flat tire. If you detect a note of innuendo in the headline, it’s the lack of sleep talking. Meanwhile, what better way to spend my first day in Venezuela than blogging about new bunker-busters!  Meet the US Air Force’s latest unintentional metaphor of a missile:

An Air Force Research Laboratory fact sheet with a 2011 time-stamp for public release approval tells us that a 2,000lb-class weapon with 5,000lb-class penetration capability could be available within three years.

“Future fighters will be able to deliver bunker-busting capabilities currently associated with the bomber fleet,” the fact sheet says.

I found the fact sheet for the High Velocity Penetrating Weapon (HVPW) in the AFRL munitions directorate booth at the Air Warfare Symposium a few days ago. The document reveals the USAF has shifted its focus on next-generation penetrator technology on a couple of different levels.

Force is a function of mass multiplied by velocity. Mass is the key design point for the free-falling, 5,000lb GBU-28 bunker buster and the 30,000lb Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

For the next generation penetrator weapon, the AFRL appears to have shifted the focus to velocity. Packing a solid rocket propulsion system “with mission tailored boost and terminal velocities, intelligent fuzing and optimized explosive,” the HVPW blasts into bunkers using speed in place of raw mass.

But the HPVW also may reflect a shift from previous interest in an air-breathing, high-speed penetrator, such as the Mach 3.0 Lockheed Martin revolutionary approach to time critical long-range strike (RATTLRS) demonstrator.

Like RATTLRS, the HPVW is designed to be carried inside the Lockheed Martin F-35′s internal weapons bay, but will also enable “other fighter/bombers”, the fact sheet says.

It’s clear the USAF is in the market for a new penetrator weapon for the next generation bomber. Gen William Fraser, chief of Air Combat Command, actually confused the air force’s message in his opening remarks at the symposium on 17 February. Fraser said that the next generation bomber would leverage several existing technologies, and he included the Massive Ordnance Penetrator on the list.

I asked Lt Gen Jim Kowalski, chief of Global Strike Command, about that the next day. He clarified that Fraser means the next generation bomber will leverage the bunker-buster effect of the massive ordnance penetrator, but not necessarily its mass. In the aforementioned force equation, that implies a shift toward higher speed, although Kowalski declined to confirm that theory.


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2 Responses to Penetrate faster, harder with new AFRL weapon

  1. S O 20 February, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I still expect new bunker busters to feature a shaped charge for softening up the target structure before impact of the hard/dense metal penetrator.

    You cannot enter deeply without foreplay. ;-)

  2. FighterFan 25 February, 2011 at 12:51 am #

    There’s something “Buck Rogers-ish” about that illustration… thought I’d seen it before somewhere. Looked up one of my books and it does have some resemblance to the bomber defense missile concept from the late 60′s, albeit the BDM doesn’t have the second set of fins.

    S O – lol, good one. Now will the targets insist on using “protection”?

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