The U.S. Army shot down a simulated cruise missile traveling at Mach 5 using howitzers outfitted with AI, in a test of the United States Air Force's new Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), according to an initial report from Air Force Magazine.
ABMS is part of the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) program, which aims to take existing weapon systems and modify them with advanced automated detection and expand their capabilities.
US Army upgrades howitzers to shoot down cruise missiles
The demo took place at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, where B-52 bombers launched six BQM-167 “Skeeter" aerial targets. These targets served as a stand-in low-flying cruise missiles.
The Air Force's ABMS sensors then detected the “cruise missiles” before providing targeting data to an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter and MQ-9 Reaper drone equipped with AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, a ground launcher, a U.S. Navy 5-inch (12.7-cm) deck gun, and U.S. Army M109A7 Paladin self-propelled howitzer tank.
Paladin fired hypersonic HVP projectile at Mach 5
The Paladin fired a new hypersonic Mach 5 hypervelocity, or HVP, projectile which successfully intercepted the target, reports Popular Mechanics. BAE Systems developed the new HVP howitzer round, which flies faster and can be used for the precision-targeting of moving projectiles such as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, and perhaps even drones.
During a press briefing on the ABMS demo, Air Force acquisition boss Will Roper told reporters: "tanks shooting down cruise missiles is awesome [...] video game, sci-fi awesome."
While emphasizing the impressive capabilities of the HVP, Roper explained that the real "star of the show" was the way data was transferred via 4G and 5G networking and the cloud to enable a largely automated kill chain "that took seconds, not minutes," Breaking Defense reports.
AI turns long-range howitzer into cruise missile countermeasure
More than a traditional means of fire support for tanks and artillery, the U.S. Army’s 155-millimeter howitzer can now also shoot down cruise missiles. But there's a catch: the Air Force's flying sensors have to provide flight path data before firing the upgraded howitzer.
Of course, the components using AI have improvements to make. During the test, data links stationed in remote areas went down. Roper said these failures are actually good, because is shows where improvements are needed, reports Air Force Magazine. If nothing failed when onboarding AI for the first time, then the test isn't effective.
However far the new AI-fused howitzer design has to go, this test turned the historically long-range howitzer — a weapon renown for its artillery power — into a precise cruise missile countermeasure.