Thinking Small

By lex, on May 31st, 2011

Navy is used to think in terms of tonnage when it considers its investment in capital ships. The trend these days, however, is to think in pounds:

“There are a lot of weapons in the military’s arsenal,” said Lt. Col. Brad Beach, an official who coordinates the Marines’ drone technology. “But what we don’t have is something small.”

The military is flush with multi-ton bunker-busting bombs designed to reduce fortified buildings into smoldering rubble. But Marines in Afghanistan say there is an urgent need for a weapon that is small and powerful enough to protect them from insurgents planting roadside bombs.

Marines already have small spy drones with high-powered cameras, but what they need is a way to destroy the enemies that their drones discover.

In an attempt to fill the need, the 13-pound “smart bomb” has been under development for three years. The 2-foot-long bomb is steered by a GPS-guided system made in Anaheim. The bomb is called Small Tactical Munition, or STM, and is under development by Raytheon Co.

“Soldiers are watching bad guys plant” roadside bombs and “can’t do anything about it,” said Cody Tretschok, who leads work on the program at Raytheon. “They have to call in an airstrike, which can take 30 to 60 minutes. The time lapse is too great.”

The idea is that the small bomb could be slung under the spy plane’s wing, dropped to a specific point using GPS coordinates or a laser-guidance system, and blast apart “soft” targets, such as pickup trucks and individuals, located 15,000 feet below.

Raytheon does not yet have a contract for the bomb and is building it entirely with its own money.

“We’re proactively anticipating the military’s need,” said Tretschok, who is testing the technology at the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Drone maker General Atomics made quite a comfortable little niche for itself getting ahead of DoD’s cumbersome Joint Capability Identification and Development process, essentially estimating what it was that the military required and delivering it in advance of the stated need. Which is how the Predator drone came into being, before morphing into the far more lethal Reaper.

Outfit a network of small-scale drones not merely with weapons, but also with an innovative Layer 3 routing capability that is smart enough not to flood the comms paths with continuous link state advisories as the network topography shifts and you will have stepped into the beautiful potential of a mobile, ad hoc network that is self-forming and self-healing. This gives you ubiquitous battlespace situational awareness, secure and efficient communications of voice, video and data. And a 13-pound bomb or two as well.

There are a lot of players in this game, but there are still too many proprietary interfaces. The field needs winnowing.

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