The pursuit of Boost Phase Intercept (BPI) from unmanned aircraft is back after an 18-year pause for development of new generations of long-endurance aircraft and very fast interceptor missiles.
The advances demonstrated by new, faster, higher-altitude, larger-payload UAVs is revitalizing the concept of BPI – the tactic of striking enemy ballistic missiles within the first minute or so after launch.
With Sec. Robert Gates revamping national security strategy by budgeting for more unmanned airborne weapon systems, advocates of the UAV/BPI combination are rallying support for another effort, perhaps built around versions of Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk or larger versions of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' Predator, such as the turboprop B-model or the all-jet C-variant capable of carrying up to a 3,000-lb. payload of 2-3 very fast missiles – perhaps a variant of Raytheon’s NCADE/AMRAAM design – and advanced sensors linked to a sophisticated command and control systems and able to loiter near areas where mobile ballistic missile launchers operate.
Credit: General Atomics
During boost phase, the ballistic missile’s rocket engine produces a plume of heat and light that makes a huge target for high-speed defensive interceptor missiles. Supporters say it is the only effective way to guard against a single, nuclear-tipped missile, particular those aimed by Iran and North Korea at Israel, South Korea, Japan and U.S. forces there. The concept was examined when it was discovered during the 1991 Gulf War that none of Iraq’s mobile Scud launchers were found and attacked in time to prevent a launch.
Concepts developed in the post-war period included the U.S. Raptor Talon and Israel’s IBIS HA-10 but programs stalled over the lack of small, fast interceptor missiles. However, in the past 18 years, UAVs have gotten larger and interceptors have gotten smaller and ballistic missiles have proliferated which makes the concept interesting again.