The US Department of Defense has started a competition to replace in-service subsonic aerial targets with a new low-cost system, known as Target 21. The equipment will replicate current and future anti-ship cruise missile and aircraft threats to US Navy ships.

The new low-cost recoverable target will replace the Northrop Grumman BQM-74, which has been in use since 1978, and the larger Teledyne Ryan BQM-34 target, which supports weapon systems research and testing.

In March, the Program Executive Office for Cruise Missiles and Joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicles awarded two eight-month $1.8 million contracts to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to produce conceptual designs, and to explore technical and manufacturing approaches.

Both companies are intended to complete a programme definition and risk reduction stage, with one to begin two years of engineering and manufacturing development, according to Capt Michael Mentas, programme manager for aerial targets and decoy systems. The first vehicles would be fielded in 2004-5.

"The challenge is to develop a design that will be high fidelity for weapons testing and affordable to use on a daily basis for training," he says. With a target cost of $200,000-300,000, each Target 21 would be used three times on average. The USN will purchase 100-130 targets annually.

The navy has a stockpile of nearly 600 BQM-74Es and BQM-34s. It plans another competition in fiscal year 2001 for a further 200 interim targets. Mentas says there are models that could compete against the BQM-74E, including the Raytheon MQM-107.

Northrop Grumman had hoped to offer its next generation Target 2000 vehicle in the Target 21 contest, but Mentas says it does not meet the overall specifications. "While a step above the BQM-74E, there are certain aspects that do not correctly emulate the future threat," he says.

The USN is also considering its requirement for a supersonic target missile system, to replace the AlliedSignal Aerospace Vandal/ Talos.

Source: Flight International