New Weapon for Sinking Ships Becomes a Reality

QUICKSINK, a new low-cost, air-delivered capability for defeating maritime threats, successfully destroyed a full-scale surface vessel on April 28, 2022, as part of a demonstration in the Gulf of Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo: 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin)

The Air Force Research Laboratory and Eglin’s Integrated Test Team demonstrated a new low-cost, air-delivered capability for defeating maritime threats on April 28, 2022 by successfully destroying a full-scale surface vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. An F-15E Strike Eagle released one modified GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) as part of this test, the second experiment in the QUICKSINK Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD), funded by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. The test succeeded through a collaborative effort with AFRL, the 780th Test Squadron of the 96th Test Wing, and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron of the 53rd Wing.

AFRL scientists and engineers are developing a weapon open systems architecture, or WOSA, seeker to enable precise placement of the weapon. The implementation of WOSA also lowers costs by providing modularity via the ability to plug-and-play different manufacturers’ seeker components, which can lead to reduced weapon system costs and enhanced performance.

The QUICKSINK program, a partnership with the U.S. Navy, aims to provide options to neutralize surface maritime threats while demonstrating the inherent flexibility of the joint force. This JCTD uses a JDAM to rapidly deliver an immediate effect on stationary or moving maritime targets at minimal costs. While torpedoes predominantly sink enemy ships via submarines, new methods explored through QUICKSINK may achieve anti-ship lethality with air-launched weapons, including modified 2,000-pound JDAM precision-guided bombs.

“Heavyweight torpedoes are effective [at sinking large ships] but are expensive and employed by a small portion of naval assets,” said Maj. Andrew Swanson, 85th TES division chief of Advanced Programs. “With QUICKSINK, we have demonstrated a low-cost and more agile solution that has the potential to be employed by the majority of Air Force combat aircraft, providing combatant commanders and warfighters with more options.”

This latest experiment allowed researchers to assess the scientific and technology challenges associated with the QUICKSINK concept for operational use.

“A Navy submarine has the ability to launch and destroy a ship with a single torpedo at any time, but the QUICKSINK JCTD aims to develop a low-cost method of achieving torpedo-like kills from the air at a much higher rate and over a much larger area,” said Kirk Herzog, AFRL program manager.

As it was released over the Gulf of Mexico, where Eglin operates the 120,000 square mile Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range, stakeholders watched the QUICKSINK demonstration online thanks to multiple camera feeds from aerial platforms.