The Air Force is considering arming its fast jets with laser-guided rockets to provide longer endurance close air support with low risk of collateral damage, testers at Eglin AFB, Fla., told Air Force Magazine during a recent visit to the base. “There’s an urgent operational requirement coming from downrange saying they want these things,” Ted Welch, principle technical advisor with Eglin’s Seek Eagle office said. An F-16, for example, could carry two pods with seven rockets each, said Welch. “That’s 14 rockets—14 button-pushes, so you can keep the other guy’s heads down for a lot longer” than a pair of 1,000-pound bombs, he noted. Weapons such as Raytheon’s 2.75-inch Talon rocket are already certified on the Army’s AH-64 attack helicopter. Safely firing a similar weapon from a jet is more demanding, but “we have a design that works,” said Welch. “It wasn’t produced because it didn’t get funded, but the warfighter wants it,” he added. Welch admitted that it’s “kind of reading the tea leaves” that this will come down as the next quick reaction capability requirement, but his office, which evaluates aircraft and weapons compatibility, is “posturing assuming that’s going to happen,” he said.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.