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Critical Air Force missions take place both day and night in locations around the globe. In some cases, the use of high-performance munitions is critical to mission success.
As a result, the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program office recently provided nearly $400,000 of additional funding for a SBIR effort that will give the warfighter an affordable, high-performance millimeter wave (MMW) seeker technology for high-performance munitions.
"MMW seekers are active radar seekers with the capability to both transmit and receive information," said Thomas Lewis, an Air Force Research Laboratory researcher involved in the project. "Because they provide their own illumination, they can be used day or night. Additionally, because of the wavelength they use, they allow us to see through both clouds and rain."
Under this SBIR Phase II contract, L-3 Mustang Technology, located in Plano, Texas, will integrate an automatic target acquisition and tracking algorithm, intelligent target clustering and the capability to support a deployment demonstration. By updating, testing and demonstrating these capabilities, researchers hope to transition the technology to the AFRL Munitions Directorate's advanced development Flex Weapons program.
The GBU-X (Flexible Weapons) program is a cross-directorate AFRL initiative that seeks to mature key technologies that could enhance current weapons or lead to a new family of weapons made up of flexible, interchangeable, open system architecture components for sixth-generation aircraft. It explores two primary areas of technology research, including the development of open systems architecture with common interfaces to facilitate rapid technology refresh and configuration of the munition system to meet individual mission needs, and cooperative engagement strategies using networked and selectable effects munitions for increased robustness to countermeasures and improved endgame performance over baseline inventory munitions. The program is also examining supportability and affordability of a family of GBU-X weapons.
"Developing a common architecture that enables modular subsystems to achieve flexible weapons capability, while allowing us to refresh the technologies at the pace of better, more affordable and sustainable technologies as they are discovered and developed, is at the core of our mission," said David Hayden, an AFRL researcher working on the project.
According to Hayden, the Air Force is interested in a mature automatic target acquisition approach that allows the Guided Smart Seeker to enter into closed-loop tracking without a human operator in the loop.
"One of the requirements we sought to meet was that the seeker possessed the ability to acquire targets and begin tracking them without human intervention," said Hayden. "Intelligent target clustering is a capability that would give the seeker a more robust target tracking capability and reject any false alarms."
This program leverages more than $400,000 in additional AFRL mission funds. These funds will help ensure the Phase II project graduates to a Phase III program that successfully transitions the technologies into military or private sectors.
The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs are mission-oriented programs that integrate the needs and requirements of the Air Force through research and development topics that have military and commercial potential. The SBIR program was established by Congress in 1982 to fund research and development through small businesses of 500 or fewer employees. The STTR program was established in 1992 to fund cooperative R&D projects with small businesses and non-profit U.S. research institutions, such as universities.
Since 2006, the Commercialization Readiness Program has directly linked Air Force centers to Air Force Research Laboratory technical points of contact to identify and evaluate Air Force needs and innovative solutions. Its primary objective is to accelerate the transition of SBIR/STTR-developed technologies into real-world military and commercial applications.
The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs provide more than $300 million in funding for research and development activities by small businesses annually. With this budget, the Air Force funds research from the early stages of concept development until it transitions to military or commercial use.