The US Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to competitively develop and flight-test lightweight Netfires advanced fire support system prototypes, which include loitering and precision attack munitions.

Each contractor receives around $2 million to start fabrication and test of Netfires prototypes within four years. Raytheon's work will include construction of a Netfires container/launcher unit (C/LU), which will hold a Loitering Attack Munition (LAM) and a Precision Attack Munition (PAM).

Lockheed Martin's contract covers C/LU and LAM work. The company is separately developing the Low Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS) for the US Air Forceand a variant will be developed for Netfires.

The weapon evolved from the Advanced Fire Support System (AFSS) programme, which DARPA started in 1998. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing performed tradeoff studies during two research phases, leading to the two development plus flight test contracts. Netfires will be a key beyond-line-of-sight element of the emerging DARPA/US Army Future Combat Systems (FCS) programme.

Four contractor teams are performing 24-month FCS conceptual design - Lockheed Martin and Raytheon will keep them abreast of the Netfires work. FCS is part of the "Army Vision" for lighter, more mobile forces.

Unofficially dubbed "missile-in-a-box," the aim is to speed deployment and reduce logistics support for next-generation fire support weapons. The Netfires modular C/LU would be installed on the Humvee vehicle or deployed by helicopter. Potential targets include armoured vehicles and fixed targets, while an air defence role is contemplated using a different missile.

Raytheon's LAM and PAM would weigh less than 45kg (100lb). The company says it has started windtunnel testing and initial laboratory work on subassemblies.

The autonomous turbojet-powered LAM would be boosted from the C/LU, loitering over the battlefield until its laser radar (LADAR) seeker acquires a target. LAM would also relay target data to fire control systems. Raytheon says the LAM and LOCAAS have similar features aside from the LADAR seeker. PAM would use its terminal seeker to attack known targets.

Lockheed Martin's LAM would be smaller than the USAF's air-to-ground LOCAAS. The company offered a LAM-like device based on LOCAAS to the Norwegian Army for firing from the Lockheed Martin Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Source: Flight International