The U.S. Navy may have come across a common sense way to save billions on bombs, according to statements made from U.S. officials at the AFCEA West 2017 conference.
For years now, the Navy has been working on the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) network to help detect, track, and intercept targets using a fused network of all types of sensors at the Navy's disposal.
An F-35 Lightning II Carrier Variant flies over the stealth guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), the Navy's newest and most technologically advanced surface ship. The F-35C Lightning II is designed as the U.S. Navy's first-day-of-war, survivable strike fighter. The U.S. Navy anticipates declaring the F-35C combat-ready in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe/Released)
Essentially, NIFC-CA allows one platform to detect a target, another platform to fire on it, and the original platform to help guide the missile to the target. The system recently integrated with F-35s, allowing an F-35 to guide a missile fired from a land-based version of a navy ship to hitting a target.
Remarks from Cmdr. David Snee, director for integration and interoperability at the warfare integration directorate, recently revealed that NIFC-CA could also help save the Navy billions on bombs.
"Right now we're in a world where if I can't see beyond the horizon then I need to build in that sort of sensing and high-tech effort into the weapon itself," Snee told conference attendees, as noted by USNI News.
"But in a world where I can see beyond the horizon and I can target, then I don't need to spend a billion dollars on a weapon that doesn't need to have all that information. I just need to be able to give the data to the weapon at the appropriate time."
According to Snee, with an integrated network of sensors allowing the Navy to see beyond the horizon, the costly sensors and guidance systems the U.S. puts on nearly every single bomb dropped could become obsolete.
Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Shirley Shugar, from Joppa, Ala., takes inventory of ordnance in the bomb farm aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch)
In the scenario described by Snee, today's guided or "smart bombs" could be replaced with bombs that simply receive targeting info from other sensors, like F-35s or E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.
Essentially, the "smart" part of the weapon's guidance would remain on the ship, plane, or other sensor node that fired them, instead of living on the missile and being destroyed with each blast.
The Navy would have to do extensive testing to make sure the bombs could do their job with minimal sensor technology. But the move could potentially save billions, as the U.S. military dropped at least 26,000 bombs in 2016, the vast majority of which contained expensive sensors.