The US Air Force has released new video footage of a test earlier this year of a modified 2,000-pound GBU-31 class Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) optimized for use as an anti-ship weapon under the program called Quicksink. The clips interspersed with the full video below provide additional views of the bomb impact from the target ship’s deck coastal seawhich was thereby halved.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) first showed this updated video footage, which also included 3D images of the two halves coastal sea at the Air & Space Forces Association’s 2022 Air, Space and Cyber Conference on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico where they are now forming an artificial reef. AFRL also displayed a 3D printed mockup of the Quicksink seeker head at the conference’s Technology Show, the first public look at this component of the weapon. Laboratory officials provided additional details about the seeker, including its cost, and other aspects of the bomb on display on the ground.
AFRL has now confirmed that the Quicksink seeker, the model of which is shown below, is a dual-mode system combining a radar seeker with an imaging infrared (IIR) camera, as The War Zone has posited since the public announcement of this program last year would almost certainly be the case. The radar seeker is contained in the front part of the nose, while the camera is installed in a side fairing. This is all then integrated onto the front of an otherwise standard GBU-31/B JDAM, which retains its GPS-based Inertial Navigation System (INS) guidance package in the rear.
The combination of the new multi-mode seeker head and the JDAM tail kit makes the bomb an all-weather anti-ship weapon. When deployed, the weapon uses the empennage to initially glide to the general target area, using coordinates entered prior to launch from the launch aircraft via onboard sensors or from an offboard acquisition platform. Once it approaches the target area, the weapon switches to the Quicksink seeker to locate the target ship and determine its speed and course. The use of an independent seeker system means that the weapon could still potentially lock onto the target if it appears within the envelope of the radar and IIR camera, even in a GPS-impaired environment that imposes limits on initial cueing.
Regardless, the weapon then corrects course to a trajectory where it hits the water and then detonates near the hull below the waterline. This “raises” the ship, breaking it in two, or otherwise dealing massive damage. Even a near miss would likely result in a “mission kill,” where the ship’s systems are disabled to the point that it is no longer combat effective.
The stated primary goal of the Quicksink project is to provide a low-cost, airborne weapon that will offer, at least in some respects, capabilities similar to those of a heavy ship or a submarine-launched torpedo. Heavy torpedoes, like the US-made Mk 48, are designed to sink even very large warships by exploding beneath them and rupturing their hulls.
The video below shows the sinking of the ex-USS Ingrahama decommissioned one Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate, ends with a clip of the ship being done by a Mk 48 during an exercise in 2021.
It’s also about the cost. In its most recent budget request for FY2023, the Navy requested just over US$151 million to purchase 28 examples of the latest Mk 48 Mod 7 torpedo at an average unit cost of just under US$5.4 million. Unit costs certainly fluctuate regularly, particularly based on the total size of an order, but a review of previous Navy budget data shows that the Mk 48 Mod 7 is definitely a multi-million dollar weapon.
According to the AFRL, the Quicksink finder kits, which can be easily integrated into existing GBU-31/Bs if required, currently cost around $200,000 each. This could fall significantly as production increases, as reported by laboratory representatives at the Air, Space, and Cyber Conference The War Zone that they hope to see an average unit cost closer to $50,000 after 1,000 copies. Even when combined with the cost of acquiring the underlying £2,000-class bombs and JDAM kits, a complete Quicksink weapon promises to be significantly cheaper than most anti-ship missiles, which generally have all price points from 1 Have a million dollars or more.
One of the ways AFRL says it has worked to keep seeker costs down is to avoid the need for a more detailed database of representative ship profiles, such as those typically used in combination with IIR guidance systems on many anti-ship missiles will. The Quicksink seeker is designed to detect and lock on to the target vessel based on its length alone.
Of course, this could raise concerns about how robust the seeker is and the risks of it focusing on the wrong target, especially in a congested maritime environment. The Air Force appears to have a firm belief that highly detailed longitude data, as well as the initial target identification and cueing that the weapon requires, will mitigate such problems.
The Quicksink seeker is also based on a highly modular, plug-and-play architecture that aims to help reduce costs. This could make it easier to add new and improved features to the system in the future. The seeker head or components thereof could possibly also be used with other weapon systems.
It’s also important to note that the Air Force did not present Quicksink as a replacement for heavy torpedoes or other anti-ship weapons, regardless of its ultimate leadership and lethality capabilities. The idea is to create a new, additional, low-cost, flexible anti-ship tool that can be easily carried by a variety of existing tactical jets, including cloaked F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, as well as bombers and possibly other aircraft.
It should be noted that the JDAM has a range of about 15 miles depending on the trigger altitude and therefore has limited distance capability. This could complicate the use of the Quicksink derivative in certain higher-risk scenarios, even from a covert platform. At the same time, Quicksink bombs could be used against lower-risk targets, including logistics and support ships, which would still be important to neutralize, freeing up longer-range and otherwise more capable ammunition for tracking higher-value threats. Wing kits are available, expanding the range of JDAMs that could also be used for Quicksink bombs.
Overall, if the Quicksink seeker proves sufficiently robust and reliable, as well as relatively cheap, it could prove to be a very attractive way to expand the US military’s arsenal of ship-destroying capabilities, and to do so quickly through the use of existing stockpiles of ammunition.
Contact the author: [email protected]