January 22, 2006 A significant milestone in guided weapons technology has just been achieved by QinetiQ with the successful demonstration of the first UK air-to-ground weapons to receive updated target coordinates information post-release. Late last month the RAF's Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit, participating in the trial, released two separate Enhanced Paveway 2 (EPW2) weapons from a Tornado GR4 aircraft. Released at an altitude and angle calculated to provide a time of flight of between 30 and 60 seconds, each weapon was twice updated in-flight with new target coordinates, which the weapons received and to which they successfully steered. Weapon terminal guidance was within that expected of GPS accuracy on the day. Though the U.S military was the first with a sophisticated in-flight missile re-targeting technology, the QinetiQ system is expected to have a much lower cost.
QinetiQ has been running this weapons programme on behalf of the MOD's Deep Target Attack Equipment Capability group, since January 2005. The programme stipulated there should be no change to the carriage and release aircraft, along with keeping the standard operational interface with the weapon. The EPW2 was selected as the most convenient 'vehicle' to first demonstrate the principle which could now be applied to a variety of in-service and new ordnance. Weapon modifications for the trial were performed by Raytheon, the original equipment manufacturer, with subcontracts to Symetrics Industries for the data modem and Harris for the radio.
The data protocol was specified by QinetiQ to be the Variable Message Format (VMF) and the UHF band was specified for the datalink frequency. The communication protocol was deliberately chosen to align with the UK's policy for Network Enabled Capability and the frequency band offers the maximum potential interoperability with current military assets. The update information can also be sent to the weapon by either airborne or ground based forces.
"This solution is applicable to a wide range of current and future users," explained Ken Edwards, targeting technical leader for the programme at QinetiQ. "Until now target information is passed to the weapon before release and once in flight, it could not be updated. Future weapons could now include this capability which will enable the aircrew or either airborne or ground based command and control centres, to make tactical target decisions, almost up to the point of impact, helping improve the effectiveness and targeting of our ordnance."