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Mini-missile has mind of its own.

Imagine 200 flying "smart" weapons the size of a footlocker, swooping down on an enemy battlefield.

Each has a mind and mission of its own. Scanning the land below, they identify the mobile missile launchers on the run, but ignore the farm carts full of refugees. In a split-second these birds of prey are over their targets, and bang, they explode. They send an explosively formed rod of metal down through the enemy's tank, a slug through an armored personnel carrier, or fragments through a SCUD missile.

This is not an action sci-fi movie or even a weapons system. It's the futuristic low-cost, autonomous attack system concept, known as LOCAAS. James Moore, the Air Force program manager responsible for integrating and demonstrating this concept, describes them as "suites of technology demonstrating a revolutionary new generation of miniature smart weapons."

The Air Force, in agreement with Lockheed Martin Corp., spent $32 million to build and develop these weapons. Nose to tail, these $40,000, 31-inch-long air-to-surface weapons will be anything but small in performance.

"We're trying to create a 'paradigm' shift in the warfighter," said Moore of the Air Force Research Lab, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. "Where we used to use one [weapon] on one [target], now we can use many on few -- or one. This way we remain flexible to the needs of the battlefield at lower cost and threat to our people."

Without designating a specific target, flight crews will leave the thinking to the missile's three-dimentional imaging laser radar and use its target recognition system in its nose to continuously scan target areas.

"This would have been an ideal weapon to use in Desert Storm and Kosovo, where it could fly under the clouds to find its mobile target," Moore said.

What will stop the enemy in its tracks is the proven multimodal warhead. The size of a soup bowl, the warhead uses a shaped charge to transform a copper plate into fragments, a shuttlecock-shaped slug or a rod that can penetrate several inches of high carbon steel.

The missile was designed and flight tested in the 1990s as a gliding weapon for armored targets only. The current production version calls for a 5-pound turbojet engine with 30 pounds of thrust to fly 100 meters per second while hunting for fast moving missile launchers over a larger target area.

As a suite or individually, Moore said, all these big technologies in a small package represent a formidable threat to any enemy. [*]
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:US Air Force's Low-Cost Autonomous Attack System
Author:Cheung, Lance
Publication:Airman
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Words:414
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