The US Ballistic Missile Defense Organisation (BMDO) is looking at a possible "hit-to-kill" replacement for the cancelled Navy Area (NA) programme. The Raytheon-led missile defence programme was cancelled in December after costs rose by over 60%.

NA was to have used a Raytheon Standard SM-2 surface-to-air missile, the Block IVA, modified to intercept short-range ballistic missiles. Delays in developing the interceptor and its vertical-launch booster resulted in substantial cost overruns and schedule slippage. Flight tests were planned to resume in February, after a gap of 18 months.

Designed to be launched by USNavyAegis cruisers and destroyers, the Block IVA featured an infrared terminal seeker integrated with the missile's radio-frequency guidance, plus an improved autopilot and modified warhead and proximity fuze. Unlike BMDO's other terminal defence segment systems - Patriot PAC-3, Theatre High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) and Medium Extended Air Defence System - NA was not a hit-to-kill system, relying instead on guiding the interceptor into close proximity with the incoming ballistic missile and exploding a large fragmenting warhead.

After cancelling the NA programme "due to poor performance and projected future costs and schedules", US undersecretary of defence for acquisition Pete Aldridge asked BMDO to recommend a revised programme taking into account hit-to-kill technology from programmes such as PAC-3 and THAAD. Lockheed Martin,Aegis prime contractor, has talked about the possibility of using the PAC-3 missile in the NA system.

US Congress, meanwhile, cut funding for the BMDO's Space Based Laser (SBL) programme by more than 70% in its final version of the 2002 defence budget. This could jeopardise the SBLintegrated flight experiment planned for 2012, says the US Department of Defense. Congress, however, increased funding for the Airborne Laser programme to keep it on schedule for a first boost-phase shoot-down test in late 2003.

Source: Flight International