The US military is moving forward with a plan to address a major gap in its air and missile defence coverage. A widely dispersed system will be installed in three increments from 2007-12 to address the threat of low-flying, low-observable cruise missiles.

The US Army has pledged a leadership role, adding $1.1 billion to budgets over the next five years to accelerate technology development. The first increment is to arrive in 2007, based on the introduction of Raytheon's Surface-Launched Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defence Elevated Netted Sensor System surveillance airship.

The army also plans to accelerate elements of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), specifically the battle management suite to 2009 and the launcher and upgraded Raytheon PAC-3 missile to 2011, says Maj Gen John Urias, programme executive officer for air, space and missile defence.

In parallel, US military planners are working to harness the networking power of 33 separate weapon and surveillance systems in the cruise-missile defence arena.

An agreement on common messaging standards for platforms such as the proposed US Air Force E-10A Multi-mission Command and Control Aircraft, the US Navy's Aegis cruisers and the army's MEADS was the focus of a high-level planning meeting at the Pentagon last week.

The proliferation of land-attack cruise missiles remains "seven to eight years down the road, but solutions are needed now," says Capt William Ault, director of the Joint Staff's air, cruise and defence interoperability division.

A US military assessment in 2002 found that existing weapon systems detect the majority of incoming cruise missiles but were unable to maintain target tracks for long. The short contacts forced field commanders to compress timelines for target identification and intercept launches. The existing system "isn't efficient and it isn't pretty", says Col William Holway, director of the joint cruise missile test office, which is still collecting data from an assessment conducted last June.



Source: Flight International