The US Air Force is considering a Lockheed Martin proposal to adapt technology used for a ground-based missile defense system to protect fighters under attack in the air.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has invited proposals for a miniature self-defense munition concept study, seeking to develop a concept for a weapon to be dispensed from a fighter jet, hone in on an incoming missile and destroy it with a direct hit.

By replacing chaff, flares and directional infrared lasers, the so-called miniature self defence munition (MSDM) could revolutionise the concept of defensive countermeasures for tactical aircraft, says Frank St. John, vice-president of tactical missiles and combat manoeuvre systems at Lockheed’s Missile and Fire Control division.

“To kinetically engage as a countermeasure something that’s fired at you is an attractive possibility,” St. John says, “rather than just confuse or jam something that’s been fired at you.”

Lockheed has been studying the concept using internal funding for about three to four years, St. John says.

It seeks to leverage the active millimetre wave radar developed for the PAC-3 missile segment enhancement (MSE) programme. It repackages the sensor in a miniature munition powered by a small rocket motor.

In Lockheed’s concept, the pilot is alerted to an incoming missile and dispenses an MSDM, which hones into the target using the radar sensor, St. John says. It is a hit-to-kill weapon, and so lacks a warhead.

The miniature interceptor could dramatically increase the internal load-outs of fighters such as the F-22 and F-35, he says. It could replace the storage space now claimed for small diameter bombs. Alternatively, three of the miniature interceptors could replace one Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM, he says.

In addition to the PAC-3 MSE programme, Lockheed’s concept also comes out of two other internal projects, St. John says. One is a miniature, radar-guided missile called CUDA and the other programme is “KICM”.

Lockheed has worked on component-level hardware development and testing, along with performing operational analysis studies using internal funding. Last year, the AFRL contributed funding for more operational analyses, St. John says.

Although Lockheed has been studying the concept for four years, it may have competition for more AFRL funding. The AFRL on 5 February notified potential vendors that it is seeking proposals for a pair of concept studies on the MSDM itself and the munition’s seeker.