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Aerospace group Northrop Grumman has won a $705 million contract to develop and test an attack weapon for the F-35, designed to neutralize enemy air defenses on the ground. This new weapon could be a game-changer on future battlefields.
The Air Force has entrusted Northrop Grumman with the heavy responsibility of developing a high-speed air-to-ground weapon, known as the Stand-In Attack Weapon (SiAW). The project calls for the design, integration and flight testing of this weapon, with a view to its rapid entry into service.
Development of this second phase of the weapon, also known as SiAW, will take place over a 36-month period. The main sites for this phase are Northridge, California, and the Allegany ballistic laboratory in West Virginia. This phase will include not only the development of the weapon, but also its integration and a flight test program. Three additional tests and the delivery of prototypes will mark the end of this phase.
The strategic importance of SiAW
The Air Force wants this weapon to be able to neutralize moving ground targets, such as integrated air defense systems, ballistic missile launchers, cruise missile launchers, GPS jammers and anti-satellite systems. The choice of the F-35 to carry the SiAW is crucial to maintaining the aircraft’s stealth while penetrating enemy airspace.
Adaptability and technological evolution
One of the SiAW’s major assets is its open-architecture design. This will enable its subsystems to be rapidly updated with new capabilities. In addition, Northrop relies heavily on digital engineering and design, making SiAW the Air Force’s first fully digital weapons acquisition and development program.
Comparison with other weapons
Unlike long-range strike weapons, the SiAW has a shorter range, forcing the F-35 to get closer to the target before firing. This contrasts with traditional weapons, which are launched from a safe distance, well beyond the range of enemy defenses.
Implications for military strategy
With the emergence of advanced military powers like China, the Air Force felt the need to modernize its arsenal. The design of the SiAW is a reflection of this transition, showing a shift in focus from fighting in uncontested airspace, as in the Middle East, to more contested airspace.
The award of this contract to Northrop Grumman highlights the direction the Air Force is taking to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century. The integration of the SiAW into the F-35 could potentially transform the way air combat is conducted in the future, offering greater flexibility and adaptability in the face of technologically advanced adversaries. Only time will tell whether these investments will bear fruit on the battlefield.
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