MCDONNELL DOUGLAS Aerospace (MDA) officials and their Russian counterparts hope that the Pentagon-funded evaluation of a variant of Russia's Zvezda Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton) rocket-/ramjet-powered anti-ship missile will lead to multi-year procurement of MA-31 aerial targets for test and evaluation and training by the US Navy.

The US firm is working under a $4.7 million foreign-comparative-test contract to determine whether the MA-31 US target system can meet the Navy's requirement for a supersonic sea-skimming target (SSST). The MA-31 could replace an unsuccessful Martin Marietta supersonic low-altitude-target project. It will be used to simulate anti-ship cruise-missile threats such as the French-made Exocet and Russian SS-N-22 Sunburn weapons.

The contract covers 18 months of work, which began in May. Wind tunnel testing has been completed. A series of ground tests will follow, leading to full-scale flight-tests of as many as four MA-31 targets in late 1996.

The contract contains options, which, if exercised, will earn MDA as much as $20 million. Expanded demonstration testing could follow in fiscal year 1997, covering purchase of between three and 20 additional M-31s.

Multi-year procurement could follow, if the MA-31 satisfies SSST requirements. The exact quantity is unknown, but the USN has asked MDA to provide cost information for annual procurement of up to 100 aerial targets over 20 years.

According to MDA MA-31 programme manager John Reilly, Zvezda designs and builds the hardware, while Strela is responsible for manufacturing, assembly and checkout. Both manufacturers are based in Kaliningrad. Reilly counts international navies and other US military organisations as additional potential customers for the MA-31.

The Russians are providing air vehicles with modified radar altimeters, but active seekers and warheads are not included. MDA will install equipment needed for flight-tests at the USN's test range at Point Magu, California, including a flight-termination subsystem and telemetry. A McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom is the launch platform and MDA is handling aircraft/target integration.

The MA-31 deal is one of two pioneering US-Russian military-hardware ventures. The US Air Force continues to evaluate Zvezda's K-36D ejection seat under a separate FCT project.

McDonnell Douglas is reported to have started, preliminary discussions with Russian missile design bureau Vympel, over the possible installation of its R-73 air-to-air missile, ( NATO code AA-11 Archer) on the US company's F-15 and F-18.

Source: Flight International