The US Navy has set a February launch for an urgent competition to develop an advanced aerial target that can simulate the capabilities of a newly deployed Russian supersonic sea-skimming missile.

Growing fears about NPO Mashinostroyenhe’s P-900 “Alfa” missile has driven a new requirement for an aerial target, which the USN has dubbed Threat D. The P-900’s characteristics cannot be duplicated by the USN’s current stock of aerial targets, and the service has no ability to test how its shipborne anti-missile defences would cope against the system, the service says.

A Defense Science Board report published earlier this year described the threat that the P-900 poses to USN ships: “The missile’s flight starts as a subsonic cruise missile, but at a distance of 20km [11nm] or so from its intended target, the front end of the cruise missile separates and begins a supersonic, sea-skimming dash”. A defensive system must be capable of successfully tracking the warhead-containing vehicle through this transition and of accurately adjusting its predicted intercept point, the report adds.

The USN had hoped to buy 41 more Zvezda-Strela KH-31 supersonic sea-skimming missiles for conversion into Boeing MA-31 targets, but Moscow has blocked the transaction. The service has perhaps two MA-31s left from an initial stock of 18 KH-31s acquired several years ago. The navy has also studied the possibility of combining a Raytheon SM-2 or MIM-23B Hawk missile as a supersonic final stage for a Raytheon BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile acting as a booster.

Source: Flight International