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USAF working on new defensive missile for fighters

US industry could be competing within three years to develop a new self-defence missile for fighters aimed at countering the latest generation of Russian- and Chinese-made air-to-air weapons, says a top Lockheed Martin executive.

For several years, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and several contractors, including Lockheed, Raytheon and Boeing, have been researching concepts and subsystems that could be used in a new kind of air-to-air weapon.

In Lockheed’s concept, this miniature self-defence munition (MDSM) – about half the size of a 3.7m (12ft)-long Raytheon AIM-120D AMRAAM – would boast a limited capability to shoot down opposing aircraft in short-range engagements, says Frank St. John, vice-president of tactical missile and combat manoeuvre systems, speaking on 15 March at Lockheed’s annual Media Day.

But the main purpose of the weapon, also known as the small advanced capabilities missile (SACM) would be to intercept and destroy incoming enemy missiles, such as the long-range, Chinese-made PL-12 and Russian-made Vympel RVV-BD.

“I know that MSDM and SACM and all of those things are responses to those threats in some way as a self defence capability for our aircraft,” St. John says.

St. John estimates the air force could be ready to launch a competition in 18 to 30 months for the new weapon, which, if funded, would add to the internal-carriage arsenal of the F-22 and F-35.

Lockheed’s concept is based on a hit-to-kill weapon that destroys a target with kinetic power alone. Powered by a small rocket motor, it would leverage technology developed for the upgraded PAC-3 missile segment enhancement (MSE) Patriot missile. Lockheed is continuing to study radar and imaging-based sensors for terminal guidance, St. John says.

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