Golden Horde is designed to incorporate to the Air Force’s three most urgent technologies: precision guided weapons, artificial intelligence, and communications networking. Precision guided weapons, united by secure communications links and endowed with artificial intelligence, would be launched en masse at the enemy, with missiles aimed at preplanned targets.
If a target is assigned three incoming missiles but the first missile destroys the target, the remaining two missiles could then consult a list of alternate targets, determine which remaining ones they could plausibly reach, then recommend to human controllers they be re-tasked to those targets. A human could approve or disapprove of the action.
Golden Horde will cut down on wasted munitions and other guided munitions while increasing the number of enemy targets struck. It will also minimize enemy efforts to fool missile strikes—while the first missile in a strike might be fooled, subsequent missiles will attack other targets, increasing the chances that real enemy targets will be hit.
Existing weapons will be upgraded to work with Golden Horde, much the way existing dumb bombs are upgraded with laser or GPS guidance kits to give them pinpoint capabilities. According to Air Force Magazine, Golden Horde would work with weapons such as Small Diameter Bombs I and II, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, and Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (see top photo). Small Diameter Bombs I and II are 250 pound bombs outfitted with wing kits and GPS guidance to allow the bomb to glide to targets up to 40 miles from the release point. Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) is a new long range cruise missile designed to strike ground targets, while Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) is essentially a cruise missile designed to impersonate friendly aircraft, confusing enemy defenses.
The name “Golden Horde” is an odd choice for an Air Force weapons program. The Golden Horde was the name of the western arm of the Mongol empire, one that ruled over the Slavic peoples during the 13th and 14th centuries. In other words, it was a political entity. It’s not clear what this has to do with robotic weapons but the term may be confused with the “great hunts” organized by Kublai Khan. In The Mongols: A History, historian Jeremiah Curtin writes:
“Kublai (Khan) enjoyed hunting. In March of each year a great hunt was organized. Marco Polo says that there were two masters of the hunt, each having under him ten thousand men, five thousand dressed in red and five thousand dressed in blue. These men surrounded an immense space and drove in all the animals. When everything was ready the Khan set out with his ten thousand falconers.”
The reference to falconers—and their falcons—could be a reference to autonomous weapons, and that could be where the confusion came from. Hopefully.