Navy fighter-bombers in the future will be equipped with smaller, multifunctional munitions that will give pilots a broader array of options for attacking ground targets than the 1,000- or 2,000-pound bombs they now use.
The war in Iraq, where enemy targets are intermixed in the civilian population, has sparked a rethinking in weapon requirements for naval aviators, says Rear Adm. Thomas J. Kilcline Jr., director of the Navy Air Warfare Division.
The emphasis is on "flexible" weapons, Kilcline tells National Defense. "In the global war on terrorism, most targets are fleeting and integrated in urban operations," he says. The upshot is that aviators cannot drop large bombs without putting large numbers of civilians and potentially friendly troops at risk.
"We want to make sure the size of the warhead makes sense," Kilcline adds. He envisions a spectrum of new weapons that are equipped with "selectable warheads," which would allow pilots to pick and choose based on the mission at hand. They could opt for a shaped charge warhead to strike an armored vehicle, for example, or a small fragmentation warhead to defeat softer targets.
Close-air support missions in Iraq have under-scored the need for a direct-attack weapon that can hit moving targets, says Kilcline.
The Navy had anticipated such a weapon would materialize in the form of the "joint common missile" that the Army also had decided to buy. It would have replaced the Army's Hellfire and the Navy's Maverick air-to-ground missiles. The Defense Department cancelled the $5 billion program last year, as part of a broad cost-cutting effort, and asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to come up with other, less expensive options to replace the JCM.
Kilcline says that, in the absence of JCM, the services may support a "follow-on" system. "We are trying to figure out, with the Army and the Marine Corps, how we move to the future."
The JCM contractor, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, would no longer receive government funds for the program after September 30, 2005, although it is still possible that congressional action will extend the project into...