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A US Air Force project is designed to build data links that enable semi-autonomous weapons to ‘swarm’ a target. The new munitions being designed under the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Golden Horde project use data links to communicate, choose targets (based on pre-programmed algorithms) and then coordinate strikes against an array of targets, independently from the human pilot.

In a flight demo held Dec. 15, the AFRL’s prototype ‘swarming’ munitions failed to hit their targets in their first flight demo. However, experts see the potential for networked, autonomous munitions to eventually equip America’s entire fighter fleet.

“Salvos of collaborative weapons that can share target information and autonomously coordinate their strikes after launch could help maximize target damage and compensate for weapons lost in flight due to enemy defenses or other factors,” explains Mark Gunzinger, director of future programs at the Mitchell Institute. “This would enable the U.S. military to use smaller salvos of weapons to achieve desired effects in the battlespace compared to larger salvos of non-collaborative weapons that must be independently targeted/retargeted by human operators.”

According to, the effort involves two different weapon systems — the Collaborative Small Diameter Bomb I (CSDB-I) and the Collaborative Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (CMALD).

The demo involved the release of two CSDBs from an F-16, the AFRL release said. CSDBs, lab explained, are “Small Diameter Bombs that have been modified with a collaborative autonomy payload” developed by AFRL and Scientific Applications & Research Associates (SARA).

AFRL said they were very pleased with the results, “The team saw good performance from the networked collaborative sub-systems and understands the root cause of the weapons not impacting the desired targets. We anticipate readiness for the next flight test.” 

AFRL explained that during the demo the “CSDBs quickly established communication with each other and their seekers detected a GPS jammer” and using pre-defined rules of engagement pre-loaded into the system, “determined that the jammer was not the highest priority target. The weapons then collaborated to identify the two highest priority targets. However, due to an improper weapon software load, the collaboration guidance commands were not sent to the weapon navigation system. Without the updated target locations, the weapons impacted a fail-safe target location.”