We’ve seen how cheap drones and cruise missiles can make mincemeat of even the fanciest defense systems.
So, what’s the US Air Force’s next move?
It’s simple: fight fire with fire.
We’re talking about an initiative, courtesy of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and AFWERX, to churn out a fleet of low-cost cruise missiles.
This isn’t just about matching our adversaries, like Russia; it’s about rewriting the playbook on defense economics and extending a helping hand to our global allies.
AFWERX’s Weapons Program Executive Design and Sprint Challenge
The AFRL, through AFWERX, is diving headfirst into the Weapons Program Executive (PEO) Design and Sprint Challenge.
This isn’t your standard military fare. We’re aiming for a cruise missile that’s light on the wallet but heavy on impact: think 500-nautical miles range and high subsonic speed but with a price tag of around $150,000 a pop for bulk orders.
The goal? To roll out a test vehicle that sets the stage for an arsenal of affordable missiles.
This is about bulk, scalability, and making sure our friends can get in on the action, too.
Russia’s Influence on US Decision-Making
Let’s not kid ourselves; Russia’s got a game when it comes to this kind of warfare.
They’ve been playing the long game, wearing down advanced SAM (surface-to-air missile) systems with their own brand of cheap but effective drones and missiles.
‼️ Watch as a Russian kid with a remote control guides an FPV into a tank's derrière.
Then consider there are many hundreds of such Russian kids staring at tablet screens and maneuvering these low-cost missiles into tanks, IFVs, APCs, and trenches all across the battlefield. pic.twitter.com/PQl5YblhXW
— Will Schryver (@imetatronink) July 27, 2023
It’s time for the US to get in on this, to even the playing field where shooting down a low-cost threat doesn’t burn a hole in the pocket like taking down a Patriot PAC-3 or a Norwegian NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) in Ukraine.
Addressing the Challenge of Drone Swarms
It’s like something out of a sci-fi flick, but it’s real.
Russia’s been unleashing swarms of kamikaze drones, causing all sorts of headaches.
The US Air Force’s plan? To turn the tables with our own mass-produced cruise missiles.
We've highlighted it a few times… But the QUICKSINK missile system is 🔥 🔥 🔥
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) October 5, 2022
Think about it: a barrage of these babies coming at an enemy’s integrated air defense systems, overwhelming them with sheer numbers.
It’s a strategy tailor-made for adversaries with sophisticated defenses, like China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force and Navy in the western Pacific.
Overcoming Production Challenges
A Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report nails it on the head: expecting Russia to run out of missiles is unrealistic.
That, despite the world throwing sanctions and export controls at them, they’re still cranking out high-end hardware.
“Russia’s continued strike campaign in 2023 has made one thing quite clear: it is unrealistic to expect Russia to ever ‘run out’ of missiles,” CSIS stated in its June 2023 report.
“Despite sanctions and export controls, it appears likely that Russia will be able to produce or otherwise acquire the long-range strike capacity necessary to inflict significant damage upon Ukraine’s people, economy, and military.”
Yes, the Ukrainian forces keep pulling through these bombardments – its air defenses effectively deflect the damaging Russian assaults – but, “nevertheless,” the report continues, the latter aggressor “has continued trying to identify gaps and seams to exploit to gain an advantage.”
The US Air Force has been onto this for a while, especially with China in the rearview mirror.
The trick isn’t just making something fancy; it’s about making something effective that we can produce en masse and deploy where it counts.
Envisioning the Future
Picture this: cruise missiles pre-loaded with coordinates, launched in a synchronized dance of destruction from all angles.
These aren’t your top-shelf, do-it-all missiles. They’re more like the grunts of the missile world – simple, reliable, and overwhelming in numbers.
The strategy? A mix of these salvos with precision air-to-ground strikes and air dominance sorties.
The US Air Force’s pivot to low-cost cruise missiles is more than just a reaction to current events; it’s a strategic masterstroke.
This move addresses the immediate challenges seen in Ukraine and sets the stage for dealing with heavy-hitters like Russia and China.
As the wheels of technology and warfare keep turning, the push for cost-effective, scalable weaponry becomes crucial.
It’s not just about keeping up; it’s about staying ahead, ensuring our military superiority, and keeping our nation and its allies safe and sound.