WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin has won a contract from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency to explore firing Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-ballistic missiles from airplanes.
The company said the tests would initially focus on using the Boeing McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle as the launch platform for the PAC-3s.
Although the initial $ 3 million funding for the research program is small by the expensive R and D budgets of the BMD programs, its implications could be far reaching. The program is known as the Air-Launched Hit-to-Kill, or ALHTK, initiative. If successful, the program would eventually see U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft equipped with PAC-3s that they could air launch. The speed and range of the F-15s would carry the PAC-3s far closer to their targets than was previously imagined possible and give them a boost of up to around 1,500 miles per hour, or faster than Mach 2, significantly improving their performance and the likelihood that they could intercept and destroy incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.
"Envisioned to protect the homeland from missile threats, ALHTK could also defend deployed forces," Lockheed Martin said in a statement Tuesday. "A risk assessment contract that concluded in April 2006 identified the feasibility of pursuing this high-payoff concept. The new Risk Reduction/Concept Definition Program will refine the risk, and further define the concept and expected system performance." it said.
"This study matures the concept of operations for launching the hit-to-kill PAC-3 Missile from tactical fighter aircraft and prepares us for the next phase, a proposed system demonstration of the capability," said Mike Trotsky, vice president - Air and Missile Defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.
"Equipping fighter jets with PAC-3 Missiles would provide Combat Air Patrols or scrambled aircraft the ability to defeat cruise missiles and intercept ballistic missiles in asymmetric defense and boost phase applications. Although cruise missile defense capabilities are inherent with this concept, this MDA contract will focus on ALHTK capabilities against ballistic missiles," Trotsky said.
"The initial operational concept would fit in with North American Air Defense operational architecture, fielded at first on F-15C fighter aircraft. Future spiral development plans may aim to equip other aircraft with the capability," Lockheed Martin said.
"Lockheed Martin is focused on delivering reliable advanced technologies and systems for the U.S. government and its allies," said Trotsky. "When the stakes are highest, our customers rely on proven hit-to-kill technology to assure protection of troops and assets."
No other theater air defense missile can match the PAC-3 Missile in its ability to defeat the entire Patriot threat. It is the most advanced and capable interceptor in the Patriot missile system.
Israel's defense establishment is about to bite the BMD bullet of deciding what kind of ballistic missile defense system to develop against the very short range, relatively low-tech Qassem missiles that Hamas has been firing into the Jewish State over the past year and a half.
"After months of deliberations and disagreements, the Defense Ministry will decide by the end of the month which anti-Qassam rocket defense system to invest in and develop," The Jerusalem Post reported Jan. 13. The paper cited top Israeli defense officials as its sources for the report
"Once the decision is made concerning the Qassem system, officials estimate the development process will take at least two years, with certain systems -- if chosen -- taking up to four years. Estimations are that the project will cost at least $300 million," the newspaper said.
The paper said that the decision would be made by a committee headed by Defense Ministry Director General Gabi Ashkenazi that would hear assessments of the competing systems starting at the end of January.
Although the committee will hear assessments from both Israeli Army and Air force experts, the final decision looks like resting with the Israeli Air Force, or IAF, and not with the Army's Ground Forces Command or the Defense Ministry's Research and Development Authority, also known as MAFAT. The Post report noted that at its most recent meeting in November, the Ashkenazi committee put the IAF in charge of the project, not the GFC. The current Israel Defense Forces chief of staff is an air force officer, Gen. Dan Halutz.
The Jerusalem Post also knotted that the front-runner to get the contract was Rafael - Israel's Armament Development Authority.
"The system under consideration is based on two anti-missile systems being developed by Rafael: one involving a solid laser that will have the ability to intercept Qassems in mid-air, the other a small and cheap anti-rocket missile with a kinetic warhead," the newspaper said.
Whether the Ashkenazi committee adopts the Rafael system or not, funding it will be a significant problem. Israel's defense budget is under even more pressure than usual. Upgrading the nation's anti-ballistic missile defenses against the threat of potentially nuclear-armed Shihad-3 intermediate-range missiles and Ukrainian-built cruise missiles from Tehran is the primary threat. But last summer's brief military operations against Hezbollah, the Shiite Army of God, in southern Lebanon also exposed unanticipated shortages in army supplies.
Earlier this month "a top IDF general told reporters that the current defense budget did not include funds for the development of an anti-rocket system and that when a system was chosen its development would have to come at the expense of other military needs -- such as training -- if additional funding was not allocated by the government," the Jerusalem Post said