The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force (USAF) have selected Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to continue a research programme designed to dramatically increase the ability to engage moving ground targets.

Raytheon has received $11 million, while $12 million is going to Northrop Grumman for work on the Affordable Moving Surface Target Engagement (AMSTE) programme. AMSTE is geared to investigating and developing lower- cost technologies to engage tanks, tactical ballistic missile launchers and small boats at long ranges and in all weather conditions.

The project's initial phase explored technologies to network Ground Moving Target Indication (GMTI) radars and synthetic aperture radars (SAR) in order to provide fire control systems with accurate data to direct inexpensive munitions against moving surface targets. The idea is to fuse data collected by MTI radars installed on satellites and the USAF's Boeing E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft, the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle. AMSTE would provide target position updates to munitions in flight.

Currently-fielded weapons require either sophisticated seekers, humans in-the-loop with designators or area-effect munitions. These approaches are costly, risky and can produce collateral damage. Since a primary goal is affordability, the emphasis is on using existing sensors and weapons.

AMSTE I contracts for the development of precision fire control tracking algorithms were awarded to Orincon and Alphatech, while AMSTE I weapon systems trade studies were conducted by Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and TRW.

AMSTE II efforts by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon will include experiments to investigate critical technologies and demonstrate potential operational utility.

While the AMSTE I weapon systems studies showed that high accuracy was achievable, they concluded that the real challenge was in maintaining the location of the target prior to launching an attack. Vehicles tend to mix with other vehicles and move, using terrain to mask them from detection.

AMSTE II will include airborne experiments demonstrating precision fire control and weapon delivery against less challenging targets. One contractor will be selected.

Source: Flight International