Surface-launched guided missile would cause catastrophic damage using kinetic energy

A UK industry team has completed the first phase of a UK Ministry of Defence-funded research programme that could lead to the development of a surface-launched guided weapon for use against tactical unmanned air vehicle (TUAV) threats.

Qinetiq and guided-weapons house Sula Systems have released first details of a two-year concept definition study that has led to their creation of the Cougar counter-TUAV weapon. Exploiting a weakness in the spatial awareness available to ground-based operators of unmanned vehicles, this low-cost system will be capable of causing catastrophic damage to an enemy UAV by hitting it from astern.

Designed to augment other ground-based air defence systems, and use their existing target acquisition radars and command and control infrastructure, Cougar is expected to have a unit cost from just £25,000 ($45,900), says Qinetiq.

Powered by a turbojet engine, Cougar is a monoplane design with a length of 1.2m (3.9ft), a 1.1m wing span and a launch weight of less than 14kg (30lb). To be launched vertically from a tube using a booster motor, the airframe will have hinged wings and fins. It will not be equipped with a warhead, but will use kinetic energy under a hit-to-kill flight profile.

Qinetiq says Cougar will conduct a stern attack with a closing speed less than twice that of its target, allowing it to use cheaper flight control systems, while a low-cost infrared seeker will be used for acquisition and identification. The autonomous vehicle will be vectored towards a hostile TUAV by using mid-course guidance updates from offboard sensors, with an operator in the loop to verify the correct target is to be attacked.

If approved later this year for continued development, the project will advance into a subsystem demonstration phase, which could be done largely using computer simulation, says Qinetiq's project manager Chris Price.

The vulnerability of TUAVs to stern attack is already an area of concern for leading exponents, such as the US Air Force. Speaking earlier this year, a senior service official commented: "It's only a matter of time before some guy gets up there with a Cessna and a shotgun" to try to down the systems. Current designs such as the General Atomics RQ-1 Predator lack any countermeasures capability, although the USAF's higher-flying and more expensive Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk will be equipped with the ALE-50 towed decoy.

Qinetiq is leading a further research project for the UK Ministry of Defence to study the development of future electronic warfare equipment for use by UAVs or manned aircraft from 2020. Teamed with Roke Manor Research and Thales, the company will complete Phase 1 study activities in 2008, with a follow-on phase to involve the operation of a UAV payload testbed. Systems under study include communications and radar electronic surveillance suites.



Source: Flight International