The US Air Force Research Laboratory announced 5 January that the AFWERX military innovation centre has launched the Weapons Program Executive Office (PEO) Design Sprint and Challenge initiative, focused on developing advanced weapons technologies and strategies, with a low cost cruise missile as its first development goal. 

The inaugural Weapons PEO Challenge involves designing an enterprise test vehicle to be the foundational architecture for future low-cost cruise missiles, with a 500 nautical mile range, high subsonic speed, and a cost target of $150,000 per unit for bulk orders, according to Cayley Dymond, AFWERX Challenge team lead. 

The Challenge is part of AFWERX’s broader initiative of over 50 challenges, aiming to connect innovative solutions to the Department of the Air Force’s needs.

Teams participating in the challenge are also tasked with enhancing weapons capacity and ensuring affordable, mass delivery. The solutions must be scalable and accessible to partner nations and allies.

The Design Sprint featured experts from various institutions, including Sandia National Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs, Georgia Tech Research Institute, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

“AFWERX provided the guidelines of the meeting structure and logistics support to ensure a streamlined execution of our event; it made it really easy as an organizer for this government event to show up and know that everything logistically was taken care,” said Hartley Postlethwaite, a participant from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

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“The support that was most interesting was the artist and thoughts that came from the AFWERX facilitator. By the end of each day, AFWERX was able to provide a graphic poster that summarized each day’s activities and decisions.”

The next phase of the Weapons PEO Challenge will occur in early 2024, focusing on accelerating the testing and deployment of advanced weapons, developing a family of systems, and establishing a manufacturing test bed for on-demand production concepts.