Air Force tests podded laser and kinetic weapons in virtual war games

And it has also tested two unknown kinetic weapons.
Ameya Paleja
Pilots in action during the virtual war games.U.S. Air Force photo/Allen Winston

With an aim to explore synergies between directed energy and kinetic weapon concepts in future battlespace, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) conducted the Directed Energy and Kinetic Energy Directed Energy Utility Concept Experiment (DEKE DEUCE) last month, an institutional press release said.

With the advent of drones and electronics in warfare, the nature of battles has drastically changed.  Militaries around the world are upping the ante on these advanced technologies and conventional firepower is no longer enough to counter these threats. The U.S. Army has made some progress on deploying directed energy weapon systems and the AFRL is testing its strategies in virtual environments. 

According to the press release, the AFRL teamed up with the Munitions Directorate at the Kirkland Air Force Base in January, this year where pilots, weapons system officers, and air battle managers used directed and kinetic energy weapons in various mission sets. Without revealing much detail, the AFRL said that the airborne high-energy laser pod and two kinetic weapons concepts were tested during the virtual exercises. 

"DEKE DEUCE gave a great opportunity to put our kinetic weapons concepts in front of the warfighter," said Rusty Coleman, technical advisor at the Munitions Directorate. "It allowed us to see novel employment concepts that we could not have seen otherwise. The pilots virtually flying the aircraft provided feedback beyond what we could have gotten from any other venue."

Integrating capabilities, speeding up evolution

The AFRL also deployed its Weapons Engagement Optimizer (WOPR), an artificial intelligence (AI)-based battle management system, something it has done in the previous DEUCE events as well. Joining the efforts was the U.S. Navy's Elektra battle management system as well that will allow the two forces to coordinate their efforts and integrate their capabilities in the future.

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Testing in virtual environments allows for rapid development of technologies, saving valuable resources and overhead costs. "Experiments like the DEKE DEUCE allow critical collaboration between the warfighter and the developers of our future capabilities," said Col. Matthew Crowell, Air Force's Chief of Aviation Safety and the leader of the aviators who participated in the virtual games. "It provided an amazing opportunity for both communities to learn from each other and keep our Air Force out in front of our peers with technology."

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