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USN reveals concept to defend aircraft against missile attack with interceptors

A US Navy document reveals a new concept to protect large cargo and surveillance aircraft from incoming missiles using small interceptors launched by the targeted aircraft themselves or by unmanned escort aircraft flying next to them.

The concept proposes to move military aircraft beyond current self-protection systems, which focus on blinding the guidance systems of incoming missiles with laser- and radio frequency (RF)-based countermeasures, or confusing them by dispensing chaff and flares.

Instead, the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is evaluating a concept called Hard Kill Self-Protection Countermeasure System (HKSPCS) for the Lockheed Martin C-130 and a range of military derivatives of commercial aircraft, such as the Boeing 707, 737, 757 and 767 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, according to a request for information (RFI) published to industry on 3 May.

The HKSPCS would attempt to shoot down incoming missiles by firing salvos of interceptors at them. The interceptors could be launched either internally or from within a pod attached manned aircraft. Alternatively, a new class of unmanned escort aircraft could fly alongside the manned transports and surveillance aircraft and fire interceptors at incoming missiles, NAVAIR’s document states.

The idea emerges as China and Russia develop a new generation of surface- and air-launched missiles designed to shoot down such aircraft from hundreds of kilometers away.

“With the increasing lethality and guidance mode complexity of long range missile threats, the US Navy is interested in exploring potential alternatives and/or adjuncts to more conventional electronic self-protection solutions,” the RFI states.

The HKSPCS concept for large military aircraft also comes two years after the US Air Force began working on a similar concept. In January 2016, the USAF awarded Raytheon a contract worth up $14 million to research and develop new missiles, including a miniature self-defence munition (MSDM). The USAF also has been developing a concept called “loyal wingman”, which involves digitally tethering a manned fighter to one or multiple unmanned aircraft that can provide complementary roles, including self-defence.

NAVAIR describes two “notional” options for a HKSPCS system in the RFI. The first option calls for an internally mounted system with a total weight not exceeding about 1,040kg (2,300lb). The second option would be a pod mounted system weighing from 385-1,313kg and sized to kill four to 10 incoming missiles, factoring in the interceptor’s calculated probability of kill.

Responses to the RFI are due by 21 May, NAVAIR says.

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