Air Weapons: July 30, 2003


The Office of Naval Research took a chance last year, and gave an $25.6 million development contract to Titan Corp, to develop a new cruise missile that would be an "affordable weapon." In less than a year, a $50,000 missile, with a 1100 kilometer range and 200 pound payload, was delivered. Launched by a small rocket from it's shipping container, the "Affordable Missile" (the actual name of the weapon, at least for the moment) deploys fins and starts its small turbojet engine. Guided by GPS and/or radio control, the Affordable Missile can stay in the air for four hours, and can circle an area until a suitable target shows up. The missile can be launched from the air as well. The cost was kept down by using only commercially available ("off the shelf") components. Adding a more accurate guidance system would increase the cost of the half ton missile. It's the powerful electronics that comprise most of the cost of many "smart bombs", missiles and UAVs. The Navy has come with another $178 million to work on making the "Affordable Missile" more capable, while still keeping it affordable. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, because the navy is under a lot of budget pressure from cheaper ($20,000) smart bombs competing with the million dollar Tomahawk missiles carried by navy ships. A new Tomahawk, costing half a million dollars, is on the way. But it's not affordable enough. Moreover, the trend is towards smaller, but more accurate, bombs, to reduce collateral damage.


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