Graham Warwick/ATLANTA

CITING THE proliferation threat from low-cost cruise missiles, the US Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) is soliciting proposals to develop a cost-effective way of countering such weapons. Potential bidders were briefed on the Low-Cost Cruise-Missile Defence (LCCMD) programme at the end of July.

DARPA says that the main threat comes from low-flying cruise missiles with moderately small radar cross-sections, no electronic countermeasures and no re-active manoeuvres, but with the ability to overwhelm current or planned air defences when they are launched in large raids.

The agency says that defending against raids of 25 or more missiles by adding air-defence systems is not cost-effective. Neither is maintaining large numbers of fighters on combat air-patrol, or fielding large quantities of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), DARPA says.

The LCCMD programme will investigate low-cost weapon systems, which can improve substantially the cost-per-kill against cruise missiles. Bidders will consider airborne and sea- and ground-based systems, as well as mixed architectures combining airborne surveillance and targeting systems with SAMs. DARPA has been conducting tests of air-directed SAMs, simulating the detection and illumination of low-flying over-the-horizon targets, by an airborne radar, for attack by a surface-to-air missile.

LCCMD bidders will consider options using existing or planned aircraft and a "hypothetical centralised airborne fire-control platform" which they can define. The latter is likely to favour the use of an aerostat or airship, which DARPA has evaluated extensively.

Source: Flight International