Arguably the most interesting development in the US air-to-air missile industry in recent years has been the conceptual rise of the air-launched, anti-ballistic missile (ABM).
Lockheed Martin's air-launched hit to kill (ALHTK) program is pursuing an air-launched version Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), with the first flight test scheduled for this spring.
Raytheon's netcentric air defense element (NCADE) program is modifying an AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) with a solid rocket booster and a modified version of the AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared search and track (IRST) seeker.
I have the opportunity later today to interview both Raytheon and Lockheed officials about these programs.
The concept implies that electronics miniaturization has come far enough to allow even a relatively small missile like AMRAAM to perform the ABM role.
One wonders, however, about whether the US military's sensor networks and communications links have advanced far enough to make the air-launched ABM concept feasible in the real-world.
In other words, even if an air-launched ABM is technically feasible, is it practical? Will an F-15C flying a combat air patrol receive enough data in time to give the weapon a reasonable chance of shooting down a ballistic missile or rocket in the boost or ascent stage?
You can find a great backgrounder on the NCADE concept at Defense Industry Daily.
Meanwhile, tell me what you think. I'll report back after my interviews this evening.
[Clarification: Lockheed Martin's ALHTK is officially marketed as a terminal phase weapon, although it is potentially useful as a boost-phase weapon. However, the PAC-3 is not exoatmospheric because it does not have a divert and attitude control system for guidance control in space, unlike the proposed NCADE design.]
UPDATE: Browsing the exhibit hall at the missile defense conference in Washington DC today, I snapped a couple photos of the two concepts.
Here's Lockheed's ALHTK:
And here is Raytheon's NCADE: