Air Force Research Lab demonstrates transformation from fighter jet to submarine

EGLIN AFB — The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has demonstrated that it can turn a fighter jet into a submarine.

Well, sort of, anyway.

On Thursday, somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, the AFRL – with the 780th Test Squadron from the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron from the 53rd Eglin Wing – Destroyed a full-size ship with an air-to-surface missile launched from an F-15E Strike Eagle.

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The missile was used in a new application being developed in the AFRL, dubbed QUICKSINK, in which a munition launched from an aircraft is guided through water to explode under a vessel rather than exploding on or at the interior of the ship itself.

A video screen in a control room in the Air Force Research Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base displays a surplus 200-foot ship in the Gulf of Mexico used in an April 21 demonstration of the l QUICKSINK effort to use air-launched ordinance to destroy target shipping.  The April 21 demonstration had to be canceled before it was completed, but QUICKSINK was successfully demonstrated in the Gulf on Thursday.

By detonating a munition under the keel of a ship, “you’re better able to couple the energy to the target,” said Kirk Herzog, AFRL program manager for QUICKSINK – which includes a partnership with the Navy – during of a press conference in Eglin a few days before. Thursday’s successful protest.

Simply put, what Herzog means is that water pressure explosively forced into the keel of the ship will produce greater damage – including the likelihood of sinking the ship – than an explosion on or inside the ship.

In the latter case, Herzog pointed out during the briefing, it is possible that a damaged ship could eventually be returned to service, or at least salvaged for parts, while an outright sinking removes the ship from inventory. of an enemy.

“It’s a very effective way to damage a ship,” Herzog said of the QUICKSINK approach. And, he added, “At the end of the day, we think it’s going to be a very low-cost approach.”

However, according to other information from the briefing, there will likely be limitations to the QUICKSINK approach. It may not be able, for example, to sink an aircraft carrier.

U.S. Space Force Col. Tony Meeks, commanding officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, briefs the media and other guests during an attempted demonstration of QUICKSINK on April 21.  The April 21 protest ultimately had to be called off, but QUICKSINK was successfully demonstrated in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday.

Thursday’s successful demonstration was carried out with the GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Modified Munition (JDAM), a 2,000-pound warhead coupled with a JDAM guidance kit. But the success also means that the QUICKSINK approach could in the future be applied to other warheads and other guidance kits. And that means a wide range of Air Force aircraft could be used in anti-shipping applications.

This could be particularly important as US national defense strategy has shifted from counterterrorism to a “great power” focus, with China seen as a major threat.

China has actually focused on developing its maritime capabilities, and the US Indo-Pacific Command, one of the country’s six combat commands, is involved in QUICKSINK as the program’s operations manager.

One of the benefits of the QUICKSINK approach, according to an AFRL press release announcing the successful demonstration at the Gulf of Eglin Testing and Training Range, is that it could be less expensive and more readily available than traditional naval resources such as submarines.

“Heavyweight torpedoes are effective (for sinking large ships) but are expensive and used by a small portion of naval assets,” Major Andrew Swanson, 85th TES Advanced Programs Division Chief, said in the release. hurry. “With QUICKSINK, we have demonstrated an inexpensive and more agile solution that has the potential to be used by the majority of Air Force combat aircraft, giving combat commanders and combatants more options. .”

U.S. Space Force Col. Tony Meeks (right), commanding officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, and Segrid Harris, senior scientific technical director of management, answer questions from the media and other guests during an April 21 briefing on the QUICKSINK initiative, which was successfully demonstrated Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico.

Herzog noted that while a “naval submarine has the capability to launch and destroy a ship with a single torpedo at any time…the QUICKSINK (program)…aims to develop an inexpensive method of killing torpedoes from the air at a much higher rate and over a much larger area.

For Space Force Col. Tony Meeks, director of the AFRL Ordnance Branch at Eglin, “QUICKSINK is a response to an urgent need to neutralize maritime threats to freedom around the world.”

An F-15E Strike Eagle equipped with 2,000-pound modified GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions prepares for takeoff from Eglin Air Force Base Thursday for the demonstration of the QUICKSINK Joint Capability technology.  Developed by scientists and engineers at the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, this new low-cost aerial capability successfully destroyed a large-scale surface ship in the Gulf of Mexico.  The test was successful through a collaborative effort with the AFRL and Eglin's Integrated Testing Team.

At the recent in-person press conference, Meeks noted that QUICKSINK was made with existing military ordinance and technology, albeit adapted for new use.

A recurring question for the Ordnance Directorate, Meeks said, is, “How can we reuse the technology multiple times?

“We try to earn every penny of value from a technology,” he added.

In this sense, the AFRL scientists and engineers involved in QUICKSINK are developing an “open systems architecture of weapons” seeker, using available digital technology to allow the precise placement of a munition deployed to sink a marine vessel. . One of the advantages of the open system approach, according to the AFRL, is that it could be used with seeker technology from a range of manufacturers “which can result in lower system costs by weapon and improved performance”.

The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with the 780th Test Squadron of the 96th Test Wing and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron of the 53rd Wing to equip an F-15E Strike Eagle at Eglin Air Force Base from a modified 2,000-pound GBU-31 SEAL.  Direct attack munitions as part of a demonstration Thursday of QUICKSINK, a new low-cost aerial capability to defeat maritime threats.  The demonstration destroyed a full-scale surface ship in the Gulf of Mexico.

The successful demonstration, which showed that a munition could be successfully targeted from the air to be detonated underwater, allowed researchers to assess the scientific and technological challenges associated with the QUICKSINK concept for operational use. But getting that rating was not without problems.

The QUICKSINK demonstration in the Gulf of Mexico was originally scheduled for April 21. But with local media representatives present that day in an Eglin control room, as well as US Representative Matt Gaetz and other guests attending the event, a series of problems cascaded into a cancellation of the demonstration.

First, a private vessel crossed the boundaries of the announced test area in the gulf and had to be escorted. This was followed by news that refueling was not going to be available for the three jets assembled in the area for the test. Subsequently, a practice run with a dummy round missed the target ship, and eventually one of the anchor chains securing the ship broke loose.

For Meeks, the problems were not necessarily unexpected and not necessarily embarrassing.

“I’m tempted to apologize for that,” he told those in the control room, but he also noted that “every test we learn something” and explained that even without a successful missile launch, the demonstration would produce data tapes from the participating aircraft and other sources that would inform further work.

And in the press release on Thursday’s successful protest, Meeks praised the work of the Ordnance Directorate, saying “the men and women of this directorate are constantly finding ways to solve our country’s greatest challenges.”

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