Raytheon has been awarded a four-year UK-US study contract to develop a technology demonstrator for a missile warhead that will seek a target's most vulnerable area before exploding.

The Programmable Integrated Ordnance Suite (PIOS) will use an imaging infrared seeker as a fuse that will "see" a target and identify its most vulnerable point.

A traditional warhead explodes in a spherical pattern, spreading lethal fragments in all directions. PIOS's on-board processor will select an aim point at which to focus the detonation, and therefore fragment in that area to improve the chances of a kill.

The UK Defence Project Agency PIOS project manager, Terry Adams, says "We're looking to increase the robustness of the kill. New aircraft, including [unmanned combat air vehicles] can turn more swiftly and this can lead to greater miss distances, However, with PIOS there is a 400% improvement in miss distance."

Previously kill chances were improved by increasing warhead sizes. PIOS could lead to a reduction in warhead size, creating more room inside the missile for other equipment or allowing the size to be reduced.

PIOS will be applicable to the gamut of air- and surface-launched anti-air missiles from short range air defence systems to beyond visual range weapons such as the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM. It could also be used on anti-radiation missiles such as the RaytheonAGM-88 Harm. In the longer term, the warhead will be suitable for the Matra BAe Dynamics Meteor, says the DPA.

Also involved in the programme are Alliant Techsystems and Royal Ordnance Defence, which will develop the warhead, BAE Systems to provide an imaging infrared seeker and Thomson Thorn Missile Electronics, which will develop algorithms to aim the warhead.

Source: Flight International