MISSILE DEFENSE

Lockheed Miniaturizing Technology to Counter Short-Range Enemy Fires

3/21/2017
By Jon Harper
Miniature hit-to-kill interceptor

Photo: Army

Lockheed Martin is moving forward with miniaturized defensive systems designed to counter enemy rockets, artillery and mortars, a company vice president said March 21.

One is an interceptor known as the miniature hit-to-kill system, a 30-inch missile that weighs only five pounds. Hit-to-kill technology thwarts incoming missiles, rockets, artillery, mortars or aircraft by directly colliding with them and destroying them.

Lockheed is well known for its ballistic missile defense systems such as the PAC-3 and terminal high-altitude area defense system, or THAAD. Now the company is developing new equipment to take out other types of incoming enemy fire.

“It is basically taking the capability of PAC-3 in terms of sensors …. to go after rockets, artillery and mortars — short range threats that still remain the bane of infantrymen and women around the world,” said Tim Cahill, Lockheed’s vice president for integrated air and missile defense, missiles and fire control.

The company is also developing a gun-launched variant of the technology that is about 20-inches long, he told reporters at a Lockheed-hosted media day in Arlington, Virginia.

Both are in the prototype and testing stages.

“The technologies are moving along rapidly,” he said. “We’re miniaturizing the systems. We’re figuring out ways to move into areas where hit-to-kill was far more difficult.”

The company is taking advantage of advances in commercial technology to move the projects forward, Cahill noted.

“Getting the cost down and getting the profile down of the systems to go for shorter-range targets is so very important with the emerging threats,” he said. “We’re putting a lot of money and time and focus into those electronics and those capabilities and … getting those ready for fielding as fast as we can.”

Most of the funding for the projects is coming from Lockheed’s internal research-and-development accounts, he said.

While the focus of the current effort is providing the miniaturized capability to land forces, the technology could potentially be used in other domains.

“There are opportunities I think — airborne, seaborne and land-based — for all of these smaller missiles that we’re talking about,” Cahill said.

“If you … can actually start fielding a missile that is 30 inches long and [weighs] 5 pounds, well you can imagine the potential for putting that on platforms where you can’t put 10, 15, 20-foot missiles,” he added.

But a number of technical challenges must be overcome to create effective, fieldable systems of that size, he said.

“Hit-to-kill systems [are] all about a highly capable sensor coupled with a highly capable, robust and agile airframe, and being able to tie that all together with a set of algorithms that can allow you to turn on a dime,” he explained. “It’s how do we miniaturize fundamentally the sensors? How do we build maneuverable airframes that can stand increasing Gs?”

Taking out a small, hardened mortar mid-flight requires a great deal of accuracy, he noted.

“There’s a lot of science to that,” he said. “It’s a combination of technology, it’s knowhow, it’s algorithms, it’s miniaturization, it’s robustness in airframe — all [of that] comes together to make it work”.

The technology will likely be ready for fielding in the early 2020s, Cahill told National Defense.

 

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