The next phase of the US Air Force's Low Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS) advanced technology demonstration has moved towards adding a man-in-the-loop capability for critical target decision-making and away from test launching the Lockheed Martin-built miniaturised weapon from either a fighter or unmanned air vehicle.

The US Air Force Research laboratory (AFRL)-sponsored programme has completed its first armed flight of a guided test vehicle (GTV) in which the LOCAAS detected and discriminated a target from other ground objects before attacking. The GPS-guided weapon employs a three-dimensional laser radar (ladar) seeker and target recognition software to select targets autonomously.

USAF questions about the accuracy and reliability of autonomous targeting has led planners to add a man-in-the-loop capability to the next 30-month phase of the demonstration. "After some dialogue they expressed interest in what a datalink could provide for wide-area munitions and related rules of engagement. We're going to demonstrate that capability and its military utility," says Jack Cocchiarella, LOCAAS programme manager AFRL Munitions Directorate.

This$13 million phase will culminate at the end of 2005 with the test of a GTV with a two-way datalink communicating ladar targeting information to a ground control station before attacking a moving target. This will follow a GTV test later this year, which will be the first LOCAAS to deploy its wings in flight and be powered by the lighter 30lb-thrust (0.13kN) Technical Directions J45 turbojet.

The smaller engine promises better fuel efficiency and frees up internal space for extra fuel and systems. LOCAAS for now will continue to be launched from a Cessna 441, with plans to test the system from a manned fighter or the General Atomics Predator.

Source: Flight International