Existing aviation missiles of the United States are capable of solving a variety of combat missions, but do not have a number of desired functions and capabilities. In particular, several missiles cannot be combined into a link and work together, exchanging data, distributing targets among themselves, etc. At the same time, the American command understands the potential of such systems and wants to have them in service. A new program was launched last year to get the desired weapon.
The first information about the project with the Gray Wolf cipher appeared in mid-October last year. As it was then reported, in the very near future the Research Laboratory of the US Air Force (Air Force Research Laboratory or AFRL) was to issue a technical assignment for the development of a promising aircraft missile. Given the conditions of this document, defense industry enterprises had to develop and submit their own versions of the appearance of such weapons. According to the results of the comparison of several competitive works, the Pentagon had to choose the most successful project.
Last year it was reported that the result of the competition will be at least one contract for the development of technical documentation. This order was planned to be placed at the very end of 2017 of the fiscal year or a little later. For the required work took several years. In the first half of the twenties, fulfilling the requirements of the customer, the contracting company had to prepare a draft of the new Gray Wolf rocket and conduct part of the tests. Not earlier than 2025, such a product could come into service.
According to the information of last October, the AFRL technical assignment proposed the following rocket image. The contractor should develop a cruise missile with subsonic cruising speed, capable of flying a distance of several hundred miles and delivering a combat unit of a particular type to the target. In this case, the main requirements were imposed on the onboard complex of electronic equipment. He should have been “trained” by special methods of combat work, both independently and as part of a link comprising several missiles. Apparently, it was the use of missiles in the "pack" that led to the code name "Gray Wolf".
In accordance with the wishes of the military, future AFRL Gray Wolf missiles should be able to simultaneously be grouped with jointly coordinated work of several ammunition. Several missiles aimed at a single target or group of targets will have to independently study the situation in a given area, identify individual objects and determine their priority, and also distribute the targets found among themselves. All this will give the new rocket certain advantages over existing products in the context of operation and combat use.
Nevertheless, while the US Air Force experts are not fully confident in the possibility of obtaining such a potential with reasonable spending. In this regard, in the early stages of the project, planned for 2016-17 years, it was intended to carry out the necessary research work and determine the real potential of the existing proposals. It was necessary to calculate the cost of the new type of mass-produced missiles, as well as to find the optimal volumes of mass production, which would reduce the price of products to acceptable values. In addition, obtaining some of the opportunities could be associated with excessive spending. Perhaps to obtain the desired cost would have to reduce the technical task in one way or another.
According to reports, over the next few months, seven US defense companies immediately showed interest in the AFRL Gray Wolf program. The result of this was the development of a number of advanced projects of advanced aviation armament, in which the tasks were solved in one way or another. Having received the necessary documentation, the Air Force Research Laboratory was able to select the most successful project and, accordingly, the creators of future weapons.
A few days ago it became known what kind of choice was made by the responsible persons, and who in the coming years will have to deal with the creation of new missiles with unusual capabilities. Of the seven projects submitted, AFRL specialists selected two. This choice was soon confirmed by a pair of contracts defining the terms and conditions of work, as well as the amount of financial participation of the military department. It should be noted that the contracts were signed only in the middle of December 2017 of the calendar year, i.e. in the first months of financial 2018, a little later than planned in the recent past.
Lockheed Martin's Missiles and Fire Control division became the first contractor for the AFLR Gray Wolf program. The second contract was signed with the Space & Mission Systems division of Northrop Grumman. It is curious that both contracts are as similar as possible in terms of timing, technical requirements and funding. At the same time, it was reported that one of the companies was allowed to work longer than a competitor.
In accordance with the two contracts, the rocket compartments of the Northrop-Grumman and Lockheed-Martin companies will have to design a new gray-wolf guided missile, build a number of prototypes, and carry out all the necessary tests and fine-tuning. Under the two contracts, contractors will need to receive government funding of $ 110 million for each. The money will be allocated in the specified amounts over the next few years.
According to reports of the foreign press and companies that are to create promising weapons, the two contracts are seriously different in terms of completion of works. So, the project from Lockheed Martin should be completed in the next five years - before December 17 of the year 2022. Less harsh demands are placed on the Northrop Grumman project: it will be completed by mid-December 2024. Also, two contracts differ in terms of financing. So, in the 2018 fiscal year, the Pentagon will spend 2814490 dollars on the Gray Wolf missile from Lockheed Martin. A competing project in this period will receive 3014590 dollars.
Further plans and future events in the context of the AFRL Gray Wolf program have not yet been clarified, there are already grounds for some assumptions. So, there is every reason to believe that in the 2022-24 years, the US Department of Defense will compare the projects of guided missile weapons from the two companies and select the most successful one. It is he who will become the final winner of the “contest” and will receive a recommendation for adoption followed by a serial production contract.
To date, most of the information about the Gray Wolf program has not managed to become public. In addition, of all the requirements for a future rocket, only approximate speed parameters and wishes regarding the group work of several products with their simultaneous use have so far been revealed. Other data have not yet appeared and may not be published in the near future. The situation may change by the beginning of the twenties, when experimental rockets will have to go to tests, but so far any optimism is expected News may be redundant.
Not having information about the desired flight and technical characteristics of the future American rocket, but knowing about the requirements for on-board electronics and its functions, some assumptions and conclusions can be made. The main feature of the "Gray Wolf" will be the ability to work in the "pack" of their own kind. Several missiles aimed at targets in the same area will have to jointly monitor and search for targets. It is also possible to automatically distribute targets between missiles without human intervention, aimed at increasing combat effectiveness.
According to some media reports, the combat and tactical value of Gray Wolf missiles can be enhanced in other ways. Thus, it is argued that the project from Lockheed Martin now proposes the creation of not just an air-to-surface missile, but a multi-purpose aircraft capable of solving various tasks. With the help of such products it will be possible not only to carry out strikes, but also to prepare for them.
A product from Lockheed-Martin, originally created as an aviation weapon of destruction, can become a carrier of special radio-electronic or optical-electronic equipment. In this case, the aircraft carrier will be able to send a rocket with reconnaissance equipment to the area of a specified target and clarify the available information. Using this data, a missile strike can be inflicted. Also, Gray Wolf products, theoretically, are capable of carrying electronic warfare equipment.
Full-fledged combat missiles, as unified as possible with intelligence systems, will be able to carry different types of homing heads, high-explosive or penetrating warheads, etc. All this is expected to provide the maximum possible combat potential at a reasonable cost, reduced by unifying different products. With all this, the missiles should differ in relatively small size and weight, which will not lead to an unacceptable reduction in the list of compatible carriers.
Information about the Pentagon’s desire to obtain missiles capable of creating “flocks” and automatically coordinating their actions, makes us recall some developments of previous years. Such capabilities, as is known, have the Soviet / Russian anti-ship missile P-700 "Granit". One of the advantages of this complex is the advanced onboard electronics of the rocket, which allows solving specific tasks, increasing the real combat effectiveness of a massive strike.
According to known data, the Granit project provided for special algorithms for the operation of missiles on approaching the target. Having detected a given object, the P-700 missiles were to fall to the minimum height and continue the flight with the homing heads turned off. At the same time, one of the missiles continued to fly at a sufficient height and continued to observe the target, transmitting data to other products. At the same time, the target or targets were recognized with their automatic distribution among the missiles, taking into account the priority of the detected object.
Such methods of combat work made it possible to reduce the probability of detecting all of the incoming missiles and increase the probability of successful destruction of targets. In addition, with their help, it was possible to achieve a certain economy, since the number of missiles attacking a single target was determined in accordance with its parameters. However, to the best of our knowledge, the ability to work together with the P-700 missiles with full automation of control systems has never been tested in practice.
A Soviet anti-ship missile with the functions of group work was put into service in the 1983 year. The further development of radio electronic equipment and computing systems transparently hints at the fundamental possibility of creating such weapons using modern technologies. Thus, the new AFRL Gray Wolf rocket is fully capable of receiving new opportunities related to the coordinated operation of several munitions. As a result, the United States Air Force will be able to solve some new tasks or to increase the effectiveness of the implementation of "ordinary" missions.
However, the Gray Wolf project, as follows from published data, may have some problems. In comparison with existing weapons, the new rocket is very complex and, as a result, quite expensive in comparison with other products of its class. So, according to known data, one modern air-to-surface missile AGM-158A JASSM costs the customer a thousand dollars in 850, and for a newer AGM-158B JASSM-ER you have to pay 1,36 million. In this case, the on-board electronics of such products is not particularly complex or the presence of fundamentally new features. One can imagine how much the new Gray Wolves will cost the Pentagon.
At the moment, the AFRL Gray Wolf program in the form in which it is shown by official and unofficial messages looks quite interesting. The terms of reference for the project involves the development of new technologies and the creation of a rocket with unusual capabilities. However, the new rocket will be very expensive and difficult. The development of such weapons on a competitive basis can lead to a certain reduction in the cost of finished products, but the final price will still remain quite high.
According to the latest data, the work on Gray Wolf will continue until 2022-24. Over the next few years, the two companies that won the first stage of the competition program will have to submit projects, build experienced rockets and conduct tests. What new missiles will be like and whether they can fully justify the hopes placed on them will become clear only in the distant future.
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