With no near-term funding for a new satellite program to discriminate ballistic missile warheads from debris and decoys, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is examining unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as an alternative.
The agency terminated plans this year to design and build a follow-on to the two orbiting Northrop Grumman Space Tracking Surveillance System (STSS) satellites, which have been used to launch a ship-based SM-3 successfully against a target. “We want to go to space,” says Rich Matlock, director of advanced technology for the MDA. But fielding a constellation of satellites capable of acquiring a target and tracking it through the midcourse of flight is far too expensive a goal for now. So the MDA is focusing on experimenting with using unmanned aircraft to look up at targets to augment discrimination and targeting information from a network of ground-based radars.