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  • Fighter-Launched Interceptors Versus Ballistic Missiles
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 12:36 PM on Jun 17, 2010

    An under-rated threat is the thousands of short-range ballistic missiles that are now in the inventories of major countries not bounded by missile control agreements, say U.S. defense planners.

    That stockpile of missiles matches a huge hole in U.S. ballistic missile defenses. The problem area is boost phase – from launch to low space, about 320 mi. (400 km.) altitude. Study of boost-phase intercept (BPI) in the 1990s was abandoned because of the short range of fighter radars and missiles and the immature development of unmanned aircraft. But the idea of attacking during boost phase, when ballistic missiles are slow, hot targets, remains attractive to defense planners.

    “Right now there is a gap because no weapons can engage there,” says Philip Pagliara, NCADE program manager for Raytheon Missile Systems. “We want to catch missiles where they are the most vulnerable. Studies found that the air-launched, hit-to-kill mission is operationally feasible and technically viable. So we think fighter aircraft and other highly mobile airborne assets give you flexibility to counter ballistic missile threats world-wide.”

    The push for such a capability came from the warfighter community and there already is discussion of making the project an urgent-procurement, quantity buy.

    Moreover, the fighter-radar-missile combination “would make a lot of sense for Asian countries” that fly the same aircraft as the U.S.,” says Arnie Victor, Director, F-15 Business Development, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. “There are a lot of concerns in the region since [North Korean] ballistic missiles were shot across Japan.”

    Because of the location of ballistic missile launch sites, many of them would be within range of missiles launched from aircraft in international waters.

    The U.S. Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency believe they are creating an air-launched, gap-filling solution. They, along with Raytheon, are considering a demonstration of the newest fighter-carried, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar in conjunction with an extended-range version of the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile.

    “We’re basing this on the AMRAAM form factor and existing production components,” Pagliara says. “We’re adding some new components and integrating them into a missile that looks like an AMRAAM, but that can do a new mission – ballistic missile defense. The real key is that it uses logistics support that is already in place. If you can shoot an AMRAAM, you can shoot an NCADE. It meets all the requirements for internal carriage for those types of platforms [such as the stealthy F-22]. We have not shot NCADE from a UAV yet, but it is on our horizon.”

    Raytheon, Darpa and Air Force officials will not discuss ranges, but those with insight into the technology say radar ranges vary from around 90 mi. with an F-16-size AESA radar to perhaps 150 mi. with an F-15 size antenna. Missile ranges are well over 100 mi. That kind of performance, mixed with new algorithms and advanced datalinks could subsequently make the combination of the faster, higher-flying F-22 and improved air-to-air missile a viable weapon against SRBMs in the terminal phase and possibly low-flying satellites, says a senior U.S. Air Force official.

    The network-centric airborne defense element (NCADE) is a two-stage missile with an extended-range AMRAAM solid-fuel rocket motor as the first stage, a separation joint and a second stage with a divert attitude control system and guidance unit electronics and an AIM-9X seeker.

    The second stage “gives us the altitude capability to increase the battlespace significantly,” Pagliara say. “It allows you to operate in the high endoatmospshere’s thinner air and exoatmosphere where there is no aerodynamic control. It also has an axial thruster so that you can maintain forward velocity.”

    Research by the U.S. Air Force shows that short and medium range missiles are rapidly proliferating. For example, coalition forces intercepted and then released a ship-load of mobile Scud missiles and missile fuel being delivered to Yemen from North Korea in 2002. This year, Israeli officials reported Scuds were being delivered to Hezbollah. In countries other than China, Russia, the U.S. and those in NATO, there are about 5,500 SRBMs with ranges of less than 1,000 km. and 350 medium range ballistic missiles. That is considered a far greater concern than any threat from ICBMs.

    Long-range, small-target, AESA radars made by Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are already or soon will be operational in various forms on the F-15C/E, F/A-18E/F, EA-18G, F-22 and F-35. These front-line fighters could operate in combat air patrols orbits within range of the ballistic missile launchers. But a longer-term solution would be to put the radars and missiles on larger unmanned aircraft like the turboprop-powered Predator B or the higher-flying, jet powered Predator C where they could fly 12-24 hr. orbits thereby offering more continuity of coverage and releasing aircrews for other missions.

    Tags: ar99, AESA, NCADE

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