As part of the U.S. Air Force WeaponONE Digital Enterprise Program, researchers are combining the strengths of digital engineering and open-architecture designs to address a dynamic spectrum of threats. Northrop Grumman’s Gray Wolf cruise missile design is one of the latest results of this effort, bringing cost efficiencies and collaborative thinking together to produce a framework for digitally designed weapons.
Dan Salluce, Northrop Grumman program manager for Gray Wolf, says that the current design emerged from a previous Low Cost Cruise Missile (LCCM) study sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to explore the effectiveness and viability of developing a small, affordable, network-enabled, collaborative cruise missile.
Northrop Grumman has been working closely with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), Munitions Directorate under the Gray Wolf contract to make the early DARPA LCCM concept a reality. Northrop Grumman received one of two Gray Wolf contracts to pursue a prototype LCCM design and to develop low-cost technical solutions and an innovative business model that enabled very low-cost weapon production. The first Gray Wolf “spiral” began with the development of the basic airframe, without payload, that was capped at an affordable unit cost.
In pursuit of this goal, Northrop Grumman optimized a clean-sheet Gray Wolf design through lesson’s learned from the company’s experience in digital multi-disciplinary design, analysis, and optimization (MDAO) with considerations for production and sustainment of autonomous air vehicles and advanced weapon systems. Adoption of Agile processes allowed the team to develop the Gray Wolf design on an accelerated timeline, completing the system final design review with AFRL just ten months after contract award.
Salluce explained that the final Gray Wolf design featured a flexible, networked, open architecture that could support a range of payloads. One strategic goal of the program was to maximize loadouts and carriage of Gray Wolf vehicles on a wide variety of US Air Force and US Navy platforms.
Gray Wolf is designed to meet key USAF open system design requirements, such as Weapon Open System Architecture (WOSA) and the Universal Armament Interface (UAI). Jaime Engdahl, Director, Advanced Weapon Strategy for Northrop Grumman, described WOSA as an open-architecture specification that must be met by any new weapon systems entering the Air Force inventory.
Another Gray Wolf achievement involved UAI compatibility and the implications for rapid, low-cost integration of weapon systems onto platforms. As was true with WOSA, the Gray Wolf clean-sheet design provided UAI compliance that allowed the Air Force to take the Gray Wolf design to the F-16 System Integration Laboratory and rapidly verify the integration in a lab environment prior to installing the missile on an actual F-16.
The next step, according to Salluce, is to “take the physical world into the digital world,” using the Gray Wolf design as the first digital twin available in the USAF WeaponONE digital enterprise. Gray Wolf digital models and hardware-in-the-loop components will be used as a surrogate weapon platform to support research of current and future weapon capabilities.