ACM Contenders - precursors and alternatives to the AGM-129

Hank58

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My other Advanced Cruise Missile story is a little more involved. I was working for Lockheed in the mid-1980s and assigned to a project working in an unassuming looking warehouse-style building in Marietta, Georgia. Inside, the building was a warren of cypher-locked "project" rooms, each dedicated to its own program. I had a technical question on a part I was designing for the program I was assigned to and a senior "old hand" was helping me. Back then, there was a lot more paper and hard-copy reference documents involved in design engineering. It was still the early days of CAD, and those CAD systems were just digital drafting boards with almost no engineering algorithms built in. So, engineers had personal free-standing four-drawer file cabinets to store documents. Being a sensitive facility, those file cabinets were individually locked lightweight safes. The gray-beard had a reference document to loan me that would solve my problem. He spun the combination lock on his cabinet, eventually got it to unlock, and then pulled open drawers one-by-one looking for the right file folder. At one point, he pulled open one of the lower drawers, saw the contents, and then quickly shut the drawer with that "move along, nothing to see here look". I saw the contents, but we didn't say a word to each other about it. He opened another drawer and found the reference report he was looking for.

What I glimpsed for just a second or two in the drawer before he could close it was a desk-top display model, maybe a foot long, of a design iteration of the Lockheed proposal to the Advanced Cruise Missile RFP. I knew, being an airplane geek myself, that it was something that should have been destroyed a few years earlier when Lockheed lost that competition... but I also knew it was probably a cherished memento of a project that this engineer had poured his soul into, probably working 80-hour weeks in the heat of the battle.

The mid-1980s was a transitional time for Lockheed. LO techniques were rapidly advancing. Lockheed's first-generation ECHO design analysis software that was used to optimize the flat facets of the HAVE BLUE and F-117 was becoming obsolete. The Lockheed Advanced Cruise Missile submission was probably about the last design to suffer the aesthetics-assaulting electrical engineer's LO facet tyranny. The display model I glimpsed that day, however, was not the SENIOR PROM mini F-117. It was indeed a faceted shape, but much more like what we now think of as a cruise missile. I don't for a minute believe that it wasn't designed to be carried internally, wings and empennage surfaces folded, on a rotary launcher for the then Advanced Technology Bomber (later the B-2), the B-1, and the B-52. That was undoubtedly a design requirement in the RFP for the Advanced Cruise Missile. My faint impression of that display model doesn't change my mind on that issue.

The rumors at the time floating around Lockheed were that the Lockheed ACM lost to the General Dynamics Convair AGM-129 not because of LO performance or some rejection of facets, and certainly not due to the incorrect guess that it wouldn't fit internally in bombers, but because the shape of the folded Lockheed ACM (compressed for internal carriage) was inherently unstable. For safe separation when dropping from the weapons bay, the rumor was that Lockheed's ACM design had to have the turbofan engine running to power the flight control system before it left the bay. That complication (cartridge engine starts inside a bomber) was a safety issue that raised eyebrows. The AGM-129 certainly was an interesting design, but its early retirement speaks volumes to its faults (initial cost, manufacturing defects, high sustainment and maintenance costs...). Had the Lockheed design won, would those Lockheed missiles still be flying today instead of the pedestrian Boeing AGM-86? Would the US be scrambling in the 2020s to design and field another LO strategic cruise missile?
 

coanda

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I hope he got to take that model home for his efforts. I know he probably couldn't but its a nice idea...having been on projects that you end up wanting a memento for because of what it took from you, I get it.
 

Hank58

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...I also remember an interaction one day with the guy in charge of security on the project I was assigned. Again, the mid-1980s was a transitional time for LO design. I don't remember the exact context, but the gist was that he was on a little rant about the irony of program guidelines. Essentially he complained that on our current project the guide required all major components being moved about the facility, where they would be outside for any time, had to be completely covered and that cover be supported by framing that obscured the object's shape. The framing was to make the object appear flat with angular creases. He pointed out that up until then, prior projects also had to be completely covered, but their covers were required to be supported by framing that made the object appear curved without flat portions! ;-)

On the plus side, it's much easier to fabricate cheap wooden beams to prop up canvas to look flat.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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overscan (PaulMM)

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THE FIRST, SENIOR PROM, is an F-117- like design that has been identified both as a stealthy cruise missile prototype and an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, roles that aren’t mutually exclusive and show the Air Force’s interest 25 years ago— even before the F-117 flew— in stealthy, unmanned aircraft that could penetrate even the most sophisticated air defenses.

The Senior Prom design was flight tested as part of a competition that was won by the General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas (now Raytheon/Boeing) AGM-129 advanced cruise missile.

A series of Senior Prom pictures shows the design’s evolution. Early in the flight-testing phase, it appeared with high-visibility orange stripes and a large ventral fin. Later pictures have the ventral fin removed and the aircraft painted black.

The wings look like they are designed to fold against the wide, flat body for compressed carriage. Little information is available on the Senior Peg demonstrator, but according to one account the photo is a model that did not fly. There are some indications, based on a number of sightings in the Western U.S., that the design may have served as the basis for other, still-classified aircraft.

Thirteen Senior Prom launches were made from DC-130 drone carriers and all were considered successful, according to one researcher. Some were allowed to deliberately hit the ground, while others were recovered by parachute. First flight was in late 1979 or early 1980 and the test program was over by the time of the first YF-117 flight in 1981. The sorties were flown from the secret Groom Lake air base located on the Nevada Test Ranges northwest of Las Vegas.

awst-seniorprommodel-png.665523

Horizontal view of early Senior Prom stealth design shows a large ventral fin for stability and winglets that later gave way to a V-tail.


awst-seniorprommodel2-png.665522

Underside of Senior Prom unmanned aircraft shows flat lifting body, deployed folding wings for compressed carriage and a V-tail. The test vehicles were dropped from a DC-130 drone-launch aircraft.


awst-seniorprommodel3-png.665521

A late version of Senior Prom sports a black, low-observability finish. The photograph also gives a good view of the DC-130 mother ship and the sensor ball on its nose that allowed close observation of the launch sequence.

AWST 14 February 2005 (not 12 February as Wikipedia )
 
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overscan (PaulMM)

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So, my opinion.

SENIOR PROM predates ACM.

It was a single source test program to demonstrate that the XST stealth principles could be applied to a smaller airframe suitable for a cruise missile or UAV.

Subsequently, Lockheed competed with General Dynamics for the ACM stealth cruise missile program. Lockheed's design was not SENIOR PROM, but a newer design which fitted in the Boeing common rotary launcher, and must therefore have been broadly similar in dimensions to the AGM-129.
 
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overscan (PaulMM)

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Peter Westwick cites the Ben Rich papers above but says nothing at all about SENIOR PROM (other than it existed) in his book "Stealth - The Secret Race to Invent an Invisible Airplane".


USAF Selects Missile Builder

General Dynamics
has been selected to build the Air Force advanced cruise missile (ACM) incorporating stealth technologies with increased range and improved targeting capabilities. Boeing Aerospace Co. and Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. also were competing for the contract. About 1,300 ACMs will be built.

The Air Force also plans to buy up to 240 more Boeing air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM-B) beyond the 1,499 that have been delivered or ordered through Fiscal 1983. Force structure projections now call for about 3,000 USAF cruise missiles—1,700 ALCM-Bs plus the 1,300 ACMs—down from a total earlier projection of 4,348. The service has no plans to go beyond Fiscal 1984 funding for ALCM-B procurement, an Air Force officer said.

The Air Force also has awarded Rockwell International a $178.5-million contract increase for wiring, cooling and flight testing for air-launched cruise missile carriages on the B-1B manned bomber. USAF’s decision to procure “no more" than 240 additional air-launched cruise missiles to ease the transition to the new advanced cruise missile will extend production of the USAF/Boeing AGM-86B into 1986.Procurement of the additional ALCM-Bs in Fiscal 1984 was announced at the same time USAF said it had selected General Dynamics over Boeing and Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. to develop the ACM.

A Lockheed official said the approximately 250 persons working on the ACM effort at its Sunnyvale, Calif, facility would be absorbed on other programs.

At Boeing Aerospace, an official said that until USAF’s decision to procure additional AGM-86Bs, the company had expected to produce 1,499 missiles, which would carry production well into 1985. The new decision will extend production at the company's $48- million facility in Kent, Wash. (AW&ST Jan. 17, p. 101) into 1986, but how far into that year will depend on the rate USAF wants. About 500 missiles have been produced thus far, and the current rate is 40 per month. This will drop slightly a year from now when Boeing begins work on the Fiscal 1982 buy, which is 440 rather than 480 missiles. Boeing has been anticipating a gradual reduction in ALCM employment, with a drop to about 900 from the current 1,400 by mid-1984. The impact of the additional procurement has not yet been assessed.

At the time Boeing built the ALCM facility, it anticipated a total buy of more than 4,000 missiles. After deciding to develop the ACM, however, USAF had planned to end ALCM-B production after the Fiscal 1983 buy. USAF said it is planning that the ACM “will join the current-generation ALCM-B in a mix of about 3,000 strategic ALCMs deployed on [Boeing] 8-52 and [Rockwell International] B-1 aircraft.”

The Boeing official said the ALCM facility will be utilized to produce AGM-86Bs for at least two years and probably longer. In addition,
he said, “we hoped to be called upon to make substantial improvements in out years" to the approximately 1,700 missiles it now
expects to produce.

Aviation Week, April 25 1983
 
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quellish

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Post-HAVE BLUE the Air Force set up an organization, SENIOR HIGH, looking for new applications for stealth technology. Sort of an incubator. At the same time Lockheed saw the potential for applying VLO stealth to cruise missiles and began an internal IRAD effort. Lockheed proposed a demonstration program to the Air Force under SENIOR HIGH, this was called the Advanced Tactical Cruise Missile. This program became SENIOR PROM. The intent was to (eventually) produce a production version.

Engine was provided by Williams, guidance by Honeywell, navigation was a radiometric correlation system from LMSC. SENIOR PROM test flights occurred 1980-1981.

In 1979 preliminary FSD began, with the Skunk Works handing the FSD contract to LMSC (yes, before the test flight program had begun). By late 1982 DoD saw that there were several cruise missile programs going on at the same time and it was decided to force consolidation into one program. Instead of proceeding with production of SENIOR PROM, the Advanced Technology Cruise Missile competition was begun. GD won, resulting in the AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile.
 

quellish

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In 1976 DARPA started the TEAL DAWN program to develop technology for cruise missiles to survive against emerging Soviet air defenses (ground and air based). This included guidance systems, sensors, engines, and airframes. Initial airframe conceptual design contracts were given to Boeing, Northrop, and McDD. GD was invited to participate but declined. Boeing won the down select in 1977. In 1978 GD approached DARPA after reconsidering their decision to decline and was allowed to participate against Boeing. GD then won the FSD contract in 1980, beating Boeing, and the program began to transition from DARPA to USAF. At this point DoD realized there were several cruise missile programs going on, stopped TEAL DAWN and SENIOR PROM and started the Advanced Technology Cruise Missile competition, which GD won, resulting the the AGM-129.
 

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