A small, GPS- and laser-guided precision glide weapon could make its way onto the battlefield in a few years, should the Pentagon find a crucial need for the program.
Orbital ATK has tested its Hatchet munition on different types of launchers and intends to air-launch it by the end of 2018, according to Jarrod Krull of Orbital ATK Armament Systems.
"It doesn't have to be fired out of anything," he told Military.com in an interview last week.
Hatchet is enhanced by both GPS/inertial navigation and a semi-active laser seeker, which can be used simultaneously or separately.
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Hatchet was originally conceived for use on a drone. Should a target move during its loiter time, Hatchet can maneuver to the target quickly via its navigation systems, Krull said.
"This isn't only for drones, this can go on small aircraft, it can go on a helicopter, it can go on a fighter aircraft in larger quantities, and we've looked at a number of launcher capabilities," he said.
"We've even looked at, 'How many of these things could we put on B-1 bomber?' " Krull said.
Hatchet creates the ability to have a very precise weapon that requires no propulsion and is "mostly warhead."
Orbital says its compressed carriage supports a variety of "low-drag launcher designs." Its blast minimizes collateral debris often associated with other bomb drops and civilian casualties.
"When employed from an MMCLT (Multiple Missile Common Launch Tube), [it] will triple the precision-guided munition load-out of Special Operations AC-130 aircraft," according to the company's description of the glide weapon.
Hatchet isn't one size fits all -- developers must augment each weapon to fit on particular launchers, Krull said.
The six-pound, 12-inch weapon may be small but, during testing, developers have been able to prove lethality equivalent, in some cases, to a 500-pound bomb. For larger targets, Orbital suggests using "a swarm of these weapons."
"Almost all of the body of the weapon is warhead," Krull said. "There's obviously a seeker in the front, and electronics inside of the weapon itself."
To be clear, the smart munition doesn't have an artificial intelligence element to "think" on its own, and developers don't plan to add it.
"This is for anything that flies, really," Krull said of the tail-winged bomb.
He noted Hatchet's use is for targets that require a particular, narrow strike. Joint Direct Attack Munitions or Hellfire missiles are still the better choice against hardened buildings or vast underground shelters.
But "the Department of Defense doesn't have the resources to fund these very large, long-development programs like they used to. I think [officials are] looking for solutions ready to go to the field now, and so that's the approach we've taken with Hatchet," Krull said.
He would not name the type of aircraft that will drop the weapon later this year or early next year for its air-guide-to-hit test, but said Orbital has been working with each of the services for feedback.
"This is something that could be needed right now, because Hatchet fits in[to]" the dynamic environment where more lethality and more precision is needed, Krull said.