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High Velocity Penetrating Weapon Addresses “Hard Target” Challenges

The United States Air Force is addressing the challenges of a new generation of “hard target” engagements through a recent broad agency announcement released by the Munitions Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

Under the title “High Velocity Penetrating Weapon,” AFRL representatives explain, “Over the last several years, many potential adversaries have invested significantly in the construction of hard, deeply buried facilities, and these facilities often possess clear

F-35A weapons bays

The High Velocity Penetrating Weapon is intended to fit within the weapons bays of the F-35A and F-35C Lightning II aircraft. Lockheed Martin photo

military value. The trend in their construction has been to increase complexity in depth and hardness, thereby making it more difficult to locate and destroy the facilities. Today’s hard and deeply buried target (HDBT) set is rapidly expanding and becoming more difficult to defeat. Combined with new construction efforts by adversarial nations, there is a reduction in effectiveness against the broad target set with today’s mix of weapons.”

AFRL is responding to this challenge through the High Velocity Penetrating Weapon (HVPW) Flagship Capability Concept (FCC).

“This FCC will reduce the risk in several key areas for the hard target munitions acquisition,” the announcement notes. “The FCC is designed to reduce technical risk for the eventual demonstration of air-delivered weapons with increased kinetic energy derived from boosting the velocity of the warhead before impact to better penetrate into the target…”

The FCC process is not expected to integrate components into a “full up” round but rather to advance and mature a number of key technologies necessary to defeat current and future HDBTs.

Specific areas identified for risk reduction include:

  • fuze survivability;
  • payload survivability;
  • warhead case survivability;
  • ordnance integration;
  • warhead lethality;
  • anti-jam GPS;
  • navigation & algorithms;
  • terminal seeker;
  • angle-of-attack sensing;
  • integrated SIL-HWIL [Systems Integration Laboratory – Hardware in the Loop] testbed;
  • IM [Insensitive Munitions] requirements for propulsion;
  • thermal testing over tactical temperature range for propulsion;
  • modeling and simulation, and;
  • system integration.

“HVPW’s point design for research purposes is a solid rocket boosted 2000-pound (B2K) class weapon with the penetration of a 5000-pound gravity dropped bomb designed for internal carriage in an F-35 payload bay,” it states. “It would also allow increased load-out for other bomber/fighter platforms.”

The HVPW FCC is organized around a coordinated set of technology development programs grouped in four key research areas: Ordnance design and test; Guidance, Navigation & Control Design and Test; Propulsion design and test; and Conceptual design and systems integration.

The objective of the ordnance design and test research, for example, is “to develop ordnance technologies able to survive and function under high speed impact conditions expected for engaging HDBT. The mass of the penetrator, its angle of impact, the toughness of its case, the types of media encasing the target, and the depth of those media are only some of the variables that must be considered for a successful hard, deeply buried target penetrator. Sub-areas to be explored include fuze survivability, explosive payload survivability, warhead case survivability, warhead lethality and ordnance package integration. Of particular interest is a new explosive fill.”

HVPW FCC planners hope that the program will develop subsystem and component technologies “to a maturity level sufficient for transition to a potential technology demonstration acquisition program beginning in FY14.”


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...