Facing a future where the U.S. Navy’s big ships are threatened by swarms of small attack boats, the Air Force and Navy have come up with a solution: use a simple add-on kit to transform dumb bombs into inexpensive smart weapons.
By turning cheap iron bombs into guided glide bombs, the U.S. military can vastly expand the number of anti-ship weapons in its arsenal. In turn, that helps reduce the depletion of a nation’s limited stockpile of expensive, purpose-built guided weapons. a major concern in modern warfare.
During a test last month conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle used a QUICKSINK to destroy a target vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. (You can watch the video here). The vessel, which resembled a small merchant ship, was hit amidships and appeared to split in half before sinking.
When services collaborate
While interservice rivalry often creates unnecessary duplication in the U.S. military, in this case, the Air Force and Navy have collaborated on an eminently practical idea: Take the Air Force’s ubiquitous Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), which has been the mainstay of American air-to-ground ordnance for two decades, and convert it into an air-to-sea weapon. While the price of a guided missile may run into the hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars, a JDAM like the GBU-31 costs under $30,000.
The Air Force is touting QUICKSINK – which is a collaboration between the Air Force and Navy – as an option to replace Navy torpedoes.
“While torpedoes predominantly sink enemy ships via submarines, new methods explored through QUICKSINK may achieve anti-ship lethality with air-launched weapons, including modified 2,000-pound JDAM precision-guided bombs,” said the AFRL announcement.
Interestingly, QUICKSINK is being portrayed as a solution to deal with small boats without wasting precious torpedoes.
“A Navy submarine has the ability to launch and destroy a ship with a single torpedo at any time, but the QUICKSINK JCTD [Joint Capability Technology Demonstration] aims to develop a low-cost method of achieving torpedo-like kills from the air at a much higher rate and over a much larger area,” said AFRL program manager Kirk Herzog.
From the skies to the seas
The QUICKSINK will also allow the Air Force to play a much greater role in naval warfare.
“Heavy-weight torpedoes are effective [at sinking large ships] but are expensive and employed by a small portion of naval assets,” said Maj. Andrew Swanson, division chief of advanced programs at the Air Force’s 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron.
“With QUICKSINK, we have demonstrated a low-cost and more agile solution that has the potential to be employed by the majority of Air Force combat aircraft, providing combatant commanders and warfighters with more options.”
The U.S. Navy faces a variety of threats. These range from packs of small, fast Iranian attack boats armed with rockets, to swarms of explosive robot speedboats, to North Korean and Chinese missile and torpedo boats. These threats are dangerous not just because they are armed, but also because the U.S. military has a limited number of torpedoes and missiles to destroy them. A naval JDAM will go a long way toward redressing the balance.
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