ATK reveals details, export interest in supersonic target drone

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Alliant TechSystems (ATK) has revealed key details of a new aerial target designed to simulate the flight profile of one of the most dangerous threats to US Navy ships and submarines.

A public briefing posted by the US National Defense Industries Association (NDIA) in early January, but dated 20 October, also reveals that the ZGQM-173A multi-stage supersonic target (MSST) could soon be offered for export on a "case by case basis".

Mike Stuart, ATK's director of missiles business development, told the NDIA's annual targets, UAVs and range operations symposium that the new target was expected to achieve first flight on 17 November 2010.

However, the company confirmed in January that the first flight has been rescheduled to the current quarter, with the date subject to development delays and "range asset availability".

ATK ZGQM-173A Sizzler, ATK
 © ATK
Alliant TechSystems has designed its multi-stage supersonic target to mimic the Russian-produced 'Sizzler'

ATK and the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) were not immediately available to comment on the status of the flight test programme. NAVAIR awarded a $93 million target to ATK in 2008 to develop the MSST.

ATK has disclosed the ZGQM-173A is comprised of two existing systems. The subsonic bus, which detaches from the vehicle as it begins to climb, is derived from the CEi BQM-167X target drone. The second-stage, hypersonic motor is adapted from ATK's Mk 114 vertical launch anti-submarine rocket.

The US Navy launched the programme after the surprise appearance of the Novator 3M-54 Klub, also referred to as the SS-N-27 "Sizzler".

The Klub is designed to overwhelm the defences of its intended targets - ships and submarines. The missile cruises over wave-tops at subsonic speeds, accelerates in a brief climb to Mach 3.5, dives back to the surface and weaves toward a ship's hull. Such variations in speed, altitude and direction make the Klub difficult to track on radar, complicating the ship's ability to evade or stop the weapon.

When the MSST enters service in fiscal year 2014, the USN will be able to test how its defences compete against the threat posed by the Klub's speed and agility.