The US military is pushing forward with its demonstration and procurement of medium-range air defence weapons designed to intercept cruise missile unmanned air vehicle (UAV) and helicopter threats.

The US Army Space & Missile Defense Command will soon commence work on a Low Cost Interceptor (LCI) proof-of-principle demonstration that will use a seeker emerging from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Low Cost Cruise Missile Defense project. If successful, the ground-launched LCI will be fielded by the US Air Force and US Navy.

Meanwhile, the US Marine Corps is to procure a ground-based Complementary Low-Altitude Weapon System (CLAWS) using the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM, and the US Army is mulling the purchase of a similar system. The USAF has also drafted concepts of operations for a medium-range airbase defence missile.

The US Army LCI effort will run parallel to DARPA's Miniature Air-Launched Interceptor project (MALI) - the cruise missile defence system based on Northrop Grumman's ADM-160A Miniature Air-Launched Decoy. The company also envisions a Miniature Ground Launched Interceptor.

Procurement of CLAWS-type weapons would fill the air defence gap between the man-portable, very short-range Raytheon Stinger and medium-range systems such as the Lockheed Martin Patriot Advanced Capability-3 and the future Medium Extended Air Defence System.

CLAWS bids are due by 29 November. Boeing and Raytheon are expected to compete for the system integration work. The missiles and "Humvee" vehicles will be government furnished. Boeing has tested a CLAWS/HUMRAAM demonstrator mounting four AMRAAMs, and Raytheon provided the Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System which uses surface-launched AMRAAM. Raytheon and the US Army previously built and tested five HUMRAAM missiles.

Candidate LCI seekers include a BAE Systems laser radar, a Raytheon microelectromechanical systems electronically-steerable antenna, and a "noise" radar. The final selection will be made within 18 months. The US Congress added $7 million to the fiscal year 2001 defence budget to begin research work. A nine-month study would be followed by a two-year technology development phase, culminating in flight testing in FY03. The US Army has yet to define a requirement for LCI, which would have a range in excess of 200km (110nm). The goal is to field a "force multiplier" weapon, costing no more than $100,000.

Candidate LCI weapons include: the MALI; the Raytheon Long Range Area Defence Missile, a derivative of the Loitering Attack Munition being developed for the DARPA/US Army Netfires project; and the Boeing Low Cost Cruise Missile Interceptor, which was developed for DARPA as part of an earlier LCI study effort.

Source: Flight International