The US Navy is set to issue the final request for proposals (RFP) for a Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target (SSST).The award of a 30-month full-scale development contract is expected to be made by March 1999. The SSST winner can expect to supply 20 to 30 targets a year.

USN Capt Michael Mentas, programme manager for aerial targets and decoy systems, says that the SSST is needed to test shipboard defences against the Raduga 3M-80 (SS-N-22 Sunburn) anti-ship missile. It will replace the AlliedSignal Aerospace Vandal extended-extended range (EER) target. The USN has a unit cost target of $600,000.

The Vandal EER has been converted from excess Talos surface-to-air missiles since the 1970s by AlliedSignal Target Systems at an annual rate of between 25 and 30 units, but the USN has run out of Talos airframes and boosters. The company will deliver the final 120 Vandal EER targets this year.

The USN has bought nine Zvezda-Strela built MA-31s through Boeing for delivery this year as an interim SSST solution, with options for annual procurement of up to 20 more Russian built targets. The Mach 2.5 MA-31 costs about $400,000 and has a range of 28-30km (17-18 miles). The SSST RFP calls for 85km range, speed of Mach 3, and flight altitude of 30ft (9m) in the cruise and 12ft in terminal manoeuvres.

It is reported that the Russian Ministry of Defence and Zvezda-Strela are at odds over export of the MA-31, with the MoD trying to stop sales. This could affect Boeing's SSST bid as assured product availability is a key requirement.

Boeing is expected to offer an extended range version of the MA-31, while AlliedSignal Aerospace is proposing the Sea Snake, an improved Vandal EER which would be manufactured from new.

The Pentagon plans to award the winning contractor about $16 million for full scale development, and has earmarked $17 million a year for SSST production.

Source: Flight International