Eglin Air Force Base’s 780th Test Squadron and the 40th Flight Test Squadron executed the Air Force’s first Golden Horde Vanguard program test Dec. 15.
During the weapons’ flight test, a 40th FLTS F-16 released two Collaborative Small Diameter Bombs. The bombs communicated between themselves to locate, self-assign and track two ground targets.
CSDBs are Small Diameter Bomb I weapons modified to include a collaborative autonomous payload. The payload consists of technologies allowing the weapons to share data, interact, and execute coordinated actions or behaviors. the Air Force Research Laboratory and Scientific Applications and Research Associates developed the technologies responsible for the weapon.
As the test lead, the 780th TS oversaw test preparations, planning, safety, mission coordination, scheduling, execution, and reporting. The squadron evaluates conventional, nuclear, hypersonic, and other advanced weapons programs for the Air Force.
“We test everything from bullets to nuclear ICBMs,” said Capt. Ryan Kolesar, 780th TS flight commander. “We’re suited to help take the next step in weapons development by integrating autonomous and collaborative technologies into current weapons systems.”
The Golden Horde program aims to advance networked, collaborative and autonomous weapon capabilities through live and virtual testing. NCA weapon capabilities, like CSDBs, follow pre-defined rules of engagement and can select from “plays” provided to them, allowing them to observe and react to a battlespace in real time.
When deployed in mass, NCA weapons effectively share information and collaborate to overwhelm adversary defenses.
“To achieve air superiority in today’s high-end fight, we need highly adaptable weapons,” said Col. Douglas Creviston, 96th Operations Group commander. “We are applying technologies that already exist all around us in today’s modern world, and we’re using them to build a more agile arsenal. We’re going to make it very difficult for our adversaries to react and respond while our weapons are in the air.”
Several units worked alongside the 780th TS and 40th FLTS to execute the test. Airmen from the 96th Maintenance Squadron provided aircraft maintenance support on the ground. The 96th Test Wing Safety personnel developed the safety plan and mitigations, and 704th Test Group units at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, also supported the effort.
“Eglin is home to the Air Force’s weapon test experts and we push ourselves to do it better through earlier test involvement in research and development projects like Golden Horde,” said Kolesar. “Our squadron has incredibly smart engineers, like our test project lead Joey Brown, doing important work for our national defense.”
The 780th TS executes approximately 65 active test projects at any given time, working alongside weapon experts from AFRL, Air Force Lifecycle Management program offices, 53d Wing and the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center.
As the lead for all Air Force weapons testing, the squadron plays a key role in the Air Force Test Center enterprise, to include supporting digital engineering initiatives, developing new test range infrastructure, and spearheading multi-domain operations like Emerald Flag.
“We are doing a lot here at Eglin to deliver weapons to the warfighter at the speed of relevance,” said Creviston. “COVID isn’t going to slow us down.”