The Air Armament Center Functions as the Linchpin
An Interview with Randy Brown, Norma Taylor, and Wally Messmore
01/19/2011 – The Air Armament Center at Eglin AFB designs weapons for the U.S. and allied warfighters. We earlier described a key effort to modify the Small Diameter Bomb to provide a weapon for the warfighter in Afghanistan. The AAC has engaged in innovation not only in terms of technology, but in terms of delivering capability to the warfighter during the Iraq and Afghan operations. A core need is for weapons with lower collateral damage both to allow weapons to be used closer to the operations of the warfighter and to reduce the threats to civilians.
During a visit to Eglin AFB in October, discussions were conducted regarding these efforts. In a follow up interview, Second Line of Defense discussed with key officials in the center how they are accomplishing this core mission for the warfighter.
The two weapons under discussion are the Precision Lethality MK82 (BLU 129/B) and the SDB Focused Lethality Munition (FLM). In White Papers accompanying this interview, the nature of these programs is presented in greater length. For now, the core point is simply that the center has been working with the labs and the warfighters to shape a close proximity weapon with lower collateral damage.
The interview was conducted with Randy Brown, Director, Armament Directorate, Eglin AFB, Norma Taylor, Program Manager of the MK 82 Quick Reaction Capability (QRC), and with Wally Messmore, Program Manager assigned to the Air Armament Center Program Execution Group who worked on the FLM.
A B-2 Spirit dropping Mk 82 bombs into the Pacific Ocean in a 1994 training exercise off Point Mugu, California. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org
SLD: I think what the commonality for the two programs is that both of these were programs to develop close proximity weapons for the use of our forces in Afghanistan, and that you are working to give the forces a useable lower collateral damage weapon to be deployed on existing weapons. In both cases, we’re talking about a warhead modification. Is that correct?
Randy Brown: That’s right. We’re building a composite case warhead versus a steel warhead. In the case of the Mark 82 there is different explosive fill in there as well, but they’re very similar between the two so the technologies really are very similar between FLM and on what Taylor’s doing. It’s a little bit bigger warhead. BLU 129 is the nomenclature of the QRC warhead.
Norma Taylor: The BLU 129 is a form fit replacement for the standard MK 82 500-pound category warhead. So in terms of weight and dimensions of the warhead, BLU 129 is equivalent to the MK 82.
SLD: How does the composite casing as opposed to steel affect the ability to deliver low collateral damage, and what’s the advantage there?
Randy Taylor: With our classic steel warheads today, a majority of the lethality and collateral damage effects are due to the fragmentation of the steel warhead. With the composite warhead case, instead of producing those lethal fragments, it basically turns into composite dust, so to speak.
SLD: So the point really is that with the steel casing, you get fragmentation from the explosion itself, whereas the composite casing turns into dust, so you’re reducing significantly the fragmentation generated by the blast. Is that the basic point?
Norma Taylor: That’s correct. It’s a slightly different variant of the standard MK 82 explosive fill partly to help out with creating a warhead with similar weight to that of the standard MK82. Since the composite cases are so light, we need to bring the weight of the warhead up to that of the MK 82 so that the JDAM and Paveway guidance kits can carry it with no problem. So, the fill is slightly remixed from that aspect of the consideration on lethality.
SLD: So you’re taking the tested JDAM, the tried and true JDAM, so to speak, which has a flight envelope with a certain weight on the warhead and you’re trying to replicate that weight so that you don’t have to do a lot of testing on flight deviation due to a different weight on the warhead.
Norma Taylor: Exactly
SLD: But that would be a crucial part of your ability to deliver the warhead in a very timely fashion.
Norma Taylor: That’s correct.
SLD: Could you talk a little bit first to the FLM process of going from the requirement to actually delivering the capability to meet that requirement in a fairly short period of a time?
Wally Messmore: We’ll start it back in the 2005 timeframe when the Air Force Research Lab was conducting research on this particular capability. The labs were running a research and development program for the composite case and explosive fill technologies. They got to a certain point of maturity that the war fighter elevated their interest in it, thus a requirement came out of United States Central Command Air Forces (CENTAF), now known as United States Air Forces Central (AFCENT). So, in 2006 a requirement was then generated for the FLM weapon, and the acquisition approach chosen was to use a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD). This approach allowed us the kind of flexibility that you would need to fine tune the development and field a new weapon relatively quickly.
SLD: So the requirement was shaped by the availability of your technology demonstrated by the lab, that Central Forces Command saw the utility of that technology and then it was turned over to you to figure out how to develop this in a timely manner?
Wally Messmore: That is correct.
SLD: I presume that in this process you had to have a fairly open communication approach to determine best paths actually to deliver this capability in a fairly short period of time. How did you address that issue in terms of making sure that the industry and yourselves and the lab work on the same page in a very short period of time?
Wally Messmore: The requirement was expressed in a fashion that drove both lethality and the collateral damage requirements to fit into a 250-pound class weapon at the time, so the natural selection was a small diameter bomb. We worked with AFRL, with Boeing, who is the SDB I manufacturer, and with U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), who ended up sponsoring the JCTD.
SLD: So at that point, several months had passed and now you’ve got the requirement pretty well established in terms of what CENTCOM wants and what the labs think is feasible to do, so that you got a feasible requirement so to speak. Now your task is to drive the feasible requirement into an actual reality of the bomb. Is that a fair way to characterize this process?
Wally Messmore: That is correct. However, there are some nuances that go along with a JCTD, which are slightly different than a standard program of record in that it’s a capability demonstration. For example, the requirements aren’t necessarily as firm as a traditional program.
SLD: So you have some flexibility in the JCTD to shape what the realistic requirements are?
Wally Messmore: Correct.
SLD: So essentially rather than establishing a set of tight requirements at the outset of what essentially is an experiment, the prototyping, you’ve got some real flexibility in terms of execution. The key to do doing this in a short period of time is that you have flexibility in shaping how to achieve the outcome. Isn’t that the point? They’re giving you more flexibility to essentially shape the execution of the program.
Wally Messmore: That is correct.
SLD: That makes a lot of sense. Well then let’s talk about the process for what is an open project, what is still the MK82. Is this a similar kind of process where you’re doing JCTD or how is this being approached to get a timely resolution of developing the weapon?
Norma Taylor: Yes sir, it’s a different process, but we are leveraging off the technology lessons learned from FLM. For the Precision Lethality MK 82, again, the need came from a U.S. CENTCOM requirement that was validated in late January of this year. The Air Force and Navy spent a couple months looking at their options to support the need for a 500-pound category low collateral weapon that could be easily integrated across the board on a variety of Air Force and Navy Aircraftraft and in March determined that basically the big brother to FLM was the appropriate option to pursue.
One of the differences is, as Messmore indicated, FLM used a technology demonstration program. With the MK 82 variant, we went straight into a program of record with firm requirements that we really worked hard with the users to make sure that we were focused on the most critical requirements to them, and that helped set our threshold and helped set us in our design and our test program to be able to get out in the field very quickly.
So we have an acquisition category III quick reaction capability program, and again, it’s a very open communication where we’re constantly working with CENTCOM, with Air Combat Command, with the Navy and Marine Corps to understand how they employ weapons, and determine how we can meet those needs and get that done very quickly.
SLD: So going back to a statement you made shortly at the beginning of this conversation, the ability to talk to the users in the theater, in the area of operations, has been a critical capability for you to shape the most desirable outcome in the most repid fashion possible. So that dialogue is really crucial for the process to work?
Norma Taylor: Absolutely correct. We’ve teamed with the National Laboratories, in this case Lawrence Livermore National Labs. They are the warhead designer and they’re the government agent for the warhead design from that aspect, and so they basically took the warfighter inputs and their technology from the earlier work and then applied it to the 500-pound variant. From there we went to industry for support for manufacturing of the composite warhead cases. The Aerojet Corporation was selected to support the case manufacturing for this very limited QRC activity.
SLD: When you refer to Livermore’s earlier work, you mean with FLM?
Norma Taylor: It’s both the earlier work with AFRL and the FLM activity. Livermore was involved, as with AFRL in all those activities.
Lawrence Livermore National Lab Credit: http://www.lasg.org
SLD: So this has allowed you at Eglin to be a center of excellence for migrating capabilities to lower collateral damaged bombs. You’re a low collateral damage bomb enterprise of excellence by following these processes, which have highlighted the ability to talk to the war fighter in the AOR, which has been a key driver for how to do define what you will then develop.
Norma Taylor: I think it’s two aspects. It’s a close relationship with the war fighter and it’s a close relationship with the technology developers in the laboratory and Lawrence Livermore.
SLD: So you’re kind of the linchpin between those two?
Norma Taylor: Correct.
Randy Brown: What Norma Taylor is demonstrating now is that they developed a very good and beneficial working relationship with Livermore, Industry, AFRL, and in the acquisition community to get a product out of the lab, onto the production floor and into the hands of the customer in the shortest amount of time, and that we’re acting as the integrator on this effort.
We’re taking off-the-shelf components and we’re integrating this technology into a capability. But the unique thing here I think, which is different than what’s been done in the past, is we are in the middle of this. We’re bringing it all together. And in the end, it’s Taylor and her team that will deliver that full-up weapon system capability to the war fighter.
The following white papers were provided to enhance understanding of the two programs by the AAC.
Evolution of Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) Focused Lethality Munition (FLM)
25 October 2010
The Focused Lethality Munition (FLM) is an ultra low collateral damage variant of the Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) weapon. FLM exploits a composite warhead case and multiphase blast explosive fill developed and matured by the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate during an 11-month period. FLM’s warhead creates a more lethal near-field blast and eliminates the metal fragments from traditional warheads. Additionally, with the exception of the warhead, FLM’s design utilized all existing SDB I common components, software, and aircraft interfaces which greatly enhanced the accelerated acquisition schedule of the FLM system.
In April 2006 US Central Command, based on US Central Air Force’s identification of an urgent operational need for a low collateral damage weapon, sponsored an out-of-cycle Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) to determine the military utility of FLM. In August 2006, the SDB I Branch under the Armament Directorate at Eglin AFB, FL and Boeing entered into a contract arrangement for the integration and test of the FLM warhead into the SDB I Weapon System.
The JCTD acquisition strategy for FLM included a concurrent AFRL technology maturation as the SDB I Branch executed the FLM acquisition contract. The SDB I Branch’s contract with Boeing had a segregated “off-ramp” to mitigate government risk if the new developed technologies did not prove viable. The team jointly established detailed technology readiness “entrance criteria” for FLM maturity testing and performance assessments that had to be demonstrated prior to entering a formal Technology Readiness Review and transition of the technologies from AFRL to the FLM system. The AFRL technologies proved successful and transitioned to the SDB I Branch and the FLM weapon system in March 2007.
Extensive testing occurred during the AFRL and SDB I Branch development effort including arena tests to characterize the warhead, penetration tests, design verification testing, static live fire tests against simulated targets, guided test vehicle flights to evaluate weapon accuracy, and live FLM flight testing to validate FLM’s weapon effectiveness. The first 50 FLM weapons were delivered to the Air Force in March 2008, approximately two months ahead of schedule. FLM met and/or exceeded all requirements established by CENTCOM. The FLM program has transitioned to production and has delivered several lots of additional weapons.
The major players in the development of the Focused Lethality Munition JCTD were the OSD Office of Advanced Systems and Concepts, the AFRL Munitions Directorate, the SDB I Branch, The Boeing Company, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Aerojet, and CENTCOM. Open communication during weekly teleconferences with all key teammates and monthly reviews co-chaired by AFRL and the Miniature Munition Division leadership were critical to program success.
Evolution of Precision Lethality MK82 (BLU 129/B)
25 October 2010
The Precision Lethality MK82 (officially designated the BLU-129/B) is a Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) program directed to develop and field a very low collateral damage 500 pound class warhead. BLU 129/B exploits both a composite warhead case and multiphase blast explosive (MBX) fill developed and matured by the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Once completely developed, the BLU 129/B warhead will create a more lethal near-field blast and drastically reduce the quantity of metal fragments as compared to traditional warheads. The BLU 129/B warhead matches the outer mold line and mass properties (with the exception of roll inertia) of a traditional MK82 warhead and, therefore, minimizes the effort required to integrate the munition with existing weapons systems.
In January 2010, the Joint Chiefs of Staff validated a Joint Urgent Operation Need (JUON) for a very low collateral damage weapon capable of immediate integration on aircraft currently certified to employ the MK82 series warheads. In March 2010, the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell (JRAC) directed the Air Force, in collaboration with the Dept of Navy, to “rapidly develop, test and field the PL MK82, consistent with the urgency of the operational need, and the safety and risk inherent in weapons development.” In August 2010, Air Combat Command (ACC) further identified the program requirements to include, as a threshold, compatibility with both the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Laser JDAM (LJDAM). Additionally, ACC identified the F-15E, F-16 and A-10 as the threshold aircraft platforms and the need for 50 warheads to satisfy an Initial Operational Capability (IOC).
In May 2010, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Munitions Directorate initiated a five month risk reduction program to mature the composite warhead case and MBX fill technologies to a readiness level sufficient to begin a rapid system development, test and fielding program. AFRL completed the risk reduction program in October 2010 after developing the initial warhead design and demonstrating its performance characteristics by conducting two full scale blast arena tests and a target penetration test.
In August 2010, the Air Armament Center’s (AAC) Armament Directorate initiated a QRC program to finalize the warhead design, conduct design verification, system safety, aircraft integration and warhead performance testing (to include lethality arena and penetration tests), and field 50 warheads by the end of March 2011. For an acquisition strategy, AAC entered an agreement with LLNL to finalize the warhead design and conduct design verification testing. AAC selected the Aerojet Corporation to manufacture the initial warheads for aircraft integration, system safety and warhead performance testing.
Currently, the program is on track to complete all warhead design and fabrication activities along with the required development and operational tests to support both the delivery of the first 50 warheads as well as a favorable fielding recommendation by March 2011.