18 December 2009
MDA Refines UAS Concepts For Missile Defense
By Amy Butler
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Requirements are not yet firm for this capability, but several architecture studies under way will provide data on how the agency will proceed and where it plans to put its funding in the forthcoming budgets.
Now, MDA is examining how to integrate UAS into the sensor architecture to provide early tracking of ballistic missiles. In August, MDA Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly acknowledged the use of a U.S. Air Force Reaper UAS to observe the target during a missile defense test as a proof of concept. Now, however, more information is coming out about the demonstration, a Navy effort called Stellar Daggers that took place March 26.
The test included two targets — a cruise missile that was intercepted by an SM-2 Block IIIA and a short-range ballistic missile intercepted by an SM-2 Block 4.
During the test, two Reapers (one each flown by the U.S. Air Force and Navy) used onboard MTS-B medium-wave infrared sensors to track the boosting ballistic missile; two were needed to conduct “stereo” tracking. MDA officials say the Reapers were 355-432 kilometers (220.5-268.4 miles) from the target during the Stellar Daggers test.
The test proved a need for more automation in the sensor’s tracking function to avoid the need for the sensor operator to manually follow the ballistic missile.
While refining this concept, MDA also has issued a request for information (RFI) to industry to look at platform options to provide tracking “at or near threat burnout” for early intercept, according to the RFI. The RFI looks at various risk scenarios centered upon fielding four systems in 2012 or 15 by 2015.
Rich Matlock, MDA director for advanced programs, says MDA is not sold on the Reaper vehicle or its class and is open to ideas from industry.
The operational concept for the system, once fielded, would be for the UAS to accept a cue from overhead nonimaging infrared satellites (such as the Defense Support Program or Space-Based Infrared System High) or ground-based radars that would be the first to detect a boosting missile. These UAS are being widely fielded to the Air Force and Army, and they are conducting daily operations in support of forces around the globe, including anti-improvised explosive device work and tracking of insurgents.
Matlock says MDA officials hope to build off existing UAS procurement plans as much as possible to save money. However, these systems are heavily tasked and details remain to be seen on adding ballistic missile tracking to the mission set.
The agency is also conducing an analysis of alternatives, and an interim report from that is expected in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Matlock says MDA plans to fly the UASs to test more elements of the tracking task during upcoming Ground-Based Midcourse Defense flight tests early next year, and the shootdown attempt by Airborne Laser of two boosting ballistic missiles.
This week, Congress included $80 million in funding, which was not
requested by the Pentagon, in the Fiscal 2010 defense spending bill for
early intercept activities.