Now moving up quickly in USAF planning is the Very Small Munition (VSM), principally designed for close air support (CAS), particularly in urban
Sounds somewhat like a weaponized BDU-57 LGTR-
Which the Brits were considering after experience in the Balkans suggested that they were playing with fire on intra-urban ops (blow up the sniper or
the mortar), even using loaned GBU-12.
Of course nothing came of it, probably because it was in danger of competing with the SSB which became the GBU-39/SDB the Brits eventually bought
'Paveway IV' as the GBU-22 with some mods to the seeker.
Having said that, the original Miniature Munition Technology Demo included an awful lot of 'mentions' of a 100lb alternative to the 250lb weapon
class and so it could be that this is straight from the black world.
USAF and industry documents define the VSM as an 18-25 kg weapon, incorporating a small solid rocket motor, GPS-inertial guidance, a two-way datalink
and a semi-active laser seeker. The goal is a very high load-out on both manned and unmanned vehicles; the ability to target the weapon both from the
air and from the ground; and a combination of high-precision and low-collateral damage.
From the above description however; my bet is for somekind of BAT/Viper Strike derivative-
Perhaps with a bit of hybridization from the APKWS/LCPK round (Which are effectively SALH guided 2.75" FFAR that use interferometric antennas on
popout forward stabilizers (integrated between the warhead and fuze segments)-
Since forward firing weapons require the nose of the airframe to be taken well below the horizon, I don't see them as being all that practical for
'endurance' vehicles (VNe limiter airspeeds on sailplane wings) or even manned platforms where it is death to round out the bottom of a rocket pass
with a glowing afterburner and screaming jetnoise (mind you, the A-10 couldn't climb out of a wrist rocket, let alone MANPADS WEZ in less than 2
Combine this with what will likely be a _very_ short slant range and it all seems questionable compared to what dedicated manufacturing improvements
(reduced costs) to the GBU-39/40, JCM or even the old LOCAAS might yield for truly _targetable_ (eyes on munition with AMSTE compensation for MTI to
put the seeker into the basket) weapons that don't obey the traditional notions of what the 'C' in Air Support is about.
Another concern for me is the typical 'take the weight of the airframe maximum payload number and divide it by the munition weight alone so as to get
a bloated onboard kill count'.
In the latest guided 70mm systems, you have a smart pod with a digital fiber optics connect to each round. So that while you are still paying a
considerable drag penalty inherent to the open-ended pod; at least there is a believable ability to dense-pack the rounds close to each other because
they can connect in the back and don't have to drop-clear.
Look at these pictures however-
And it becomes obvious that even though the relevant free fall munition (GBU-39 in both cases) is not all that out of scale with the rocket (2.75" X
3.5ft vs.7" X 6ft), you are NOT talking about '180-220' such weapons on a B-2 (first picture) or 20+ on an F-16/F-22 (second) as was originally
advertised for them.
But rather 4 per station on each 8-shot rotary spindle in the bomber. And on two heavy-weight rated pylons/bay hardpoints in the fighters.
That's 32 and 8 rounds respectively before you either lose VLO or give up external fuel. Or both.
The reason being the need to design a rack interface both for strongbacking the weapons in the aggressive airflow/acoustics environment. And to
provide databus connects for programming.
Given that the USAF doesn't like 'stacking' releasable munitions ala the French BAP/BAT weapons-
(Due to pyrocart release impulse dangers on the remainder of the stack and 'clogging' of further releases if one cart fails), it becomes very hard
to double up on internal weapons and special pods or like the SUU-20/21 or CBLS-
Quickly start to pose their own weight and frontal area penalties while also adding to overall program costs.
OTOH, conventional racks, even those updated to smart capabilities like the BRU-55/57 and BRU-33 may themselves weigh upwards of 500lbs and will never
carry more than 2-3each.
Furthermore, no matter what manner of ejection (rearwards or vertical) if the impulse generator is not itself 'smart on rack' and preferrably
pneumatic vice pyro, you will have to so overmuscle the release sequence as to endanger small munitions which are more apt to weathercock and even
'flip' in the vortices coming off the wing and tails anyway (I've seen pictures of weapons coming /over/ the wing to strike the aft fuselage and
completely tearing off stabilizers).
This means individual Seek Eagle clearances for each platform.
VSM planners are looking at long-endurance aircraft as candidates for the initial platform for the missile. The A-10 could carry between 36 and 54
weapons and is being upgraded with the new Sniper targeting pod. The MQ-9A Predator B would carry 24 missiles on four launchers.
The MQ-9 is indeed officially envisioned as the 'Killer' (Weapons Cabinet) element in a 'Hunter Killer' pairing with the original Predator and
other USAF/SOCOM assets like the AC-130. That said, it's real use is likely to be more 'multirole/bentpipe mothership' to smaller drones which an
MQ-1 cannot physically carry in numbers. And which the 'national assets' U-2 and RQ-4 are legally restricted from doing. i.e. The availability of
the MQ-9 may be less than optimum for a CAS mission set if it is in fact hunting terrorists or sending snoop drones over a border to look at nuclear
There are also but six pylons on the Predator B aircraft with a total rating of 3,000lbs-
That probably means 750lbs on the inboards, 500 each for the mid wings and 250 on the outboards. How you plan to load some 24 weapons which weigh
50lbs apiece on an airframe configured this way I /do not know/. Given it is 'only a model', the spacing on those pylons looks pretty darn tight
considering the wingspan on each Hellfire is approximately 13" and the M299 (launcher) which weighs about 145lbs, has to to further separate each
missile by at least six inches between the fins.
To carry 24 similar weapons on six pylons means a full up launcher on each pylon (you can 'unstack' the M299 to only carry two rounds) or a full
rack + munition weight on the order of 1,320lbs (24 X 25kg X 2.2lbs) plus 870lbs (6X 145lbs). Which admittedly comes up to just 2,190lbs. But in NO
CASE is less than 365lbs per pylon which means that _even if_ you can jam the VSM side by hip (rack to rack) all the way across, you will likely not
be able to load the outboards without exceeding max station weight.
If you shift to a BRU-61 smart-MER (far more likely on a USAF platform) the rack weight goes to 320lbs empty. And the notion of hanging (for
instance) four 9lb BUET type tubes, each with a 25kg/55lb munition inside, thus becomes untennable (6X320 + 6X9 +24X55 = 3,294lbs). Even ignoring the
desire to mount other 'recce and suppression' systems (such as JCM/Hellfire, Silent Eyes or Finder, even GBU-39 itself), the likelihood of putting
24 VSMs on an MQ-9 is exceedingly small, IMO.
OTOH, the A-10 can easily take the weight but, to my knowledge, Hog Up/CUPID has only included FOUR pylons with Mil 1760 wiring (the inboard and
center wing stations) and of those, the LITENING or SNIPER is going to take one. The outboard pylons are dedicated to ALQ-131 and AIM-9 stations
(which is also where your MAWS and TRD are going to come from). While the outer-midwing stations are for LAU-131 or Comet IRCM pods. And the
fuselage stations are either removed or largely reserved for Mk.82 munitions because they just don't have the spacing, acoustics or wiring to take
other stores. i.e. For the A-10, the likelihood is not for 54 but probably closer to 12 VSMs or at most 16 if another jet or ground source
illuminates for them.
Which is perfectly alright because as soon as you hang tons of stores, in multiple, (frontal area and tunnel drag interactions with each other and the
rack) on ANY platform it's 'endurance' goes way-way down. Furthermore, expecting to encounter a 'determined' foe willing to take more than a
double handful of smart-weapon hits straight to his forehead and _keep on coming_, means putting more than one aircraft on station to provide air
support or risking loss of the commited ground force under some /very/ bad engagement conditions.
Whether the VSM is a modified Viper Strike, an LCPK/APKWS adaptation 'or something inbetween', it is foolish to design a weapons system solely for
CAS without anticipating the need to take the parent airframe beyond an extended (14.5 or 23mm plus MANPADS if not 'line on a map' border safeties)
threat engagement zone with intent to make the MUNITION your eyes-on targeting agency. As with the LAM or Silent Eyes (the latter MUAV actually being
launched from a modified ALE-50 decoy container).
Once you do that, you not only open up the range of guidance autonomies required (to hit moving targets, to select from multiple elements in a scene
with or without a designator mark). But also what you can and should expect in the way of target hardness/reengagement options vs. flyout intervals.
i.e. A GBU-39, acting as a 'LAB' or Light Attack Bomb, can kill area targets across a 30m circle with a lateral-frag pattern and radar fuzed
airburst. Of course it can also go through multiple floors to get the sniper nest on the third one down. While a JCM can loft to 16-25km in a matter
of a few seconds and then tailor it's homing vs. guidance mode and terminal trajectory to pick a target spectrum as much as feature which is most
appropriate to the attack profile. All on it's own.
And under conditions which 'suddenly' make the MQ-9 if not the A-10 as appropriate for a conventional strike/suppression action as insurgent-CAS.
I can remember the days of micro-MERs underneath OV-10's and T-28's and slinging 4-6 weaponized Mk.76 'blue bomb' equivalents because we didn't
have access to 'real' weapons on platforms which could deliver the weight. It didn't work all that well and as soon as the COIN war was lost
because of a failure to make a believable effort at winning it, the Broncos and Zorros largely disappeared along with the mission. We have a
different definition of what the threat is today, both technically and politically. As well as a new belief in 'Precision Engagement' by which to
engage them with truly point-lethal kills.
But IMO, it is still foolish to create a weapons system for a specific mission set (one well served with the AGM-114M and the coming JCM) that is apt
to be just as transient. While denying the sophistication, loiter and RANGE that true standoff commited options would provide for only a little more.
LOCAAS in particular is a munition that gives you a lot of off axis and hi-lo flyout choices as well as a sophisticated height-monitoring autopilot
navigator in a system which originally was supposed to run little more than 30,000 dollars each.
It is designed for ejection from a dedicated 'Small Munitions Dispenser' via a ballute Subpack similar to BUETs (40X8X10 carriage box) and it has an
imbedded hunting datalink not unlike that of the Silent Eyes/Predator bent pipe. Which means you get CLOSEUP lethal recce. And quite possibly the
ability to VISUALLY mark aimpoints.
All within a spec'd performance metric of 30 minutes, 100km, 250 knots flyout. Which, particularly if you drop the excessive EFP and LADAR system
costs (Spike ER EO seeker and Hellfire or PAM dual-blast heads), is at least enough to make the weapon capable of interactive (look kill look) SEAD as
well as 'patient' Terrorist stalking assassinations without ANY exposure to the parent platform. To a 5th generation SAM WEZ or sovereign airspace
outrage. If LOCAAS has died then the MALD and TALD are available as similar (scale and performance profile) air vehicles.
VSM for it's own CAS sake presumes that the mission effectors (Predator A and B if not ERMP) won't be stolen for 'other' (original) missions as
soon as the active war is over and thus abrogate any guarantees of developed doctrine and confidence in system presence. Hunter and Shadow are lousy
platforms to play direct support with 'two shots and a hundred knots' at a time.
P.S. Forgive any spelling/grammatical errors, I'm too tired to check.