/ Published May 27, 2021
Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs (CSDBs) are carried on the wing of an F-16 fighter from the Air Force Test Center’s 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB Feb. 19, 2021 during the second flight test of collaborative weapon technologies. Six of the bombs were dropped from two 96TW aircraft during the third and final flight demonstration of the Air Force Golden Horde Vanguard May 25. (Courtesy photo)
The 780th Test Squadron and 40th Flight Test Squadron executed the third and final flight test for the Air Force’s Golden Horde Vanguard program May 25th.
F-16 Fighting Falcons released a total of six Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs above White Sands Missile Range. The weapons functioned as designed and successfully guided to their targets, engaging their unique autonomy algorithm and accepting the first in-flight target update of the program.
CSDBs are weapons modified to include a collaborative autonomous payload. The payload consists of technologies allowing the weapons to share data, interact and execute coordinated actions or behaviors.
“It was both an honor and a privilege to see Golden Horde through to completion,” said T.J. Ciufo, 780th TS lead test engineer on the program. “Having achieved the milestones we did at the rapid developmental pace of the program, what was accomplished was truly remarkable.”
When the weapons launched and established communications with each other, the collaborative autonomy consulted the pre-defined mission objectives and on-board playbook to determine “plays” to be called. Networked collaborative autonomous weapons, like CSDBs, follow pre-defined rules of engagement and can select from plays provided to them, allowing them to observe and react to a battlespace in real time. The weapons then executed the play striking each planned target successfully and bringing a satisfactory conclusion to the program.
This test series built up in complexity, starting with two networked collaborative bombs, then four and finally six during the final flight test event. During this progression, Air Force Research Laboratory made software updates improving the abilities of the weapons. This enabled a more rigorous evaluation of the autonomy algorithms and the capabilities enabled by the weapons.
“This program pushed the envelope on many fronts: manufacturing, safety planning, test execution, even budget constraints,” said Joseph Brown, Golden Horde’s former lead test engineer. “Golden Horde is a shining example of how the Air Force can rapidly develop game-changing technology through effective leadership, dedicated personnel and commitment to the mission.”