Thursday, August 27, 2009

Counter-RAM Systems Target Rockets

David Eshel/Tel Aviv



With the threat from short-range, high-trajectory weapons such as rockets, artillery and mortars (RAM) becoming more lethal in cross-border attacks, the development of counter-RAM technologies has ­accelerated.

The Extended Area Protection and Survivability (EAPS) program is part of an advanced technology objective pursued by the U.S. Army's Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, to protect U.S. forces against RAM attacks. The program anticipates the use of guided-munition technologies to intercept RAM threats. The system, comprising interceptors, sensors and fire-control systems, will provide stationary and mobile forces with a 360-deg. umbrella of coverage, extending area protection from direct and indirect fires.

In February 2008, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Space & Mission Systems were awarded $8.6 million and $5.9 million, respectively, to design prototype hardware for the EAPS Battle Element. Both companies are expected to present their competing systems to the Army by the end of 2012.

Lockheed Martin is developing a compact, vertically launched missile designed for a hit-to-kill intercept of RAM threats. The system includes an interceptor, fire-control radar, launcher and battle manager. The system will operate autonomously and interface with battlefield surveillance systems. The five-year development program, now in its second year, involves the development and testing of prototype hardware, and demonstrating intercepts of individual and multiple targets.

Other companies engaged in counter-RAM defense include Raytheon, which is offering the Centurion Land-based Phalanx Weapon System, which has proved effective in Iraq. Since its initial deployment, Centurion has intercepted and prevented more than 110 mortar attacks. The radar-guided, rapid-firing Gatling gun is claimed to represent a revolutionary approach to point defense, since it is able to intercept rockets, artillery rounds and mortar bombs in the air. Centurion has recently been upgraded with an improved engagement-control system, which is designed to prevent firing at friendly forces and sensitive areas.

The weapon's M940 HEIT-SD (High-Explosive Incendiary Traced-Self-Destruct) ammunition was modified with detonation delay to eliminate the risk of collateral damage from duds or rounds that do not hit a target. The system incorporates sensors, fire control and the weapon in an integrated unit, providing situational awareness, precision fire, real-time targeting and kill assessment.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Israel is developing Iron Dome, a mobile missile interceptor that targets the trajectories of multiple short-range rockets, 155-mm. artillery rounds and guided munitions to a range of 70 km. (43 mi.), as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. Unlike other point-defense systems, Iron Dome was developed to extend counter-RAM protection to urban areas--a critical concern in Israel, where Hamas and Hezbollah have launched thousands of unguided, but occasionally lethal, missiles at Israeli border cities in recent years. Development began in 2007 by Israel's defense ministry as an urgent operational requirement to defeat short-range rockets, notably the Qassam improvised rocket fired by Palestinians, and 107-mm. Grad and 122-mm. Katyusha rockets deployed by Hezbollah.

The system will use the low-cost Tamir autonomous guided missile to defeat only those rockets projected to cause damage or risk to designated targets. The system has demonstrated this capability in several test firings this year, where multiple Iron Dome sensors detected attacks, tracked targets, calculated launch and impact points, plotted intercept plans and launched interceptors. The Tamir missiles acquired targets, maneuvered accurately and destroyed incoming rockets. Testing continues this summer, and by year-end the first system is to be handed over to the Israeli air force, becoming combat ready in early 2010.

Iron Dome's battle management and weapon control system was developed by mPrest Systems Ltd. of Israel. It processes and tracks individual targets as well as rocket salvos. The Tamir interceptor receives trajectory updates from the battle management system via an uplink. As it approaches the target, the missile employs its seeker to acquire the weapon and homes in for the kill. An intercept is calculated to take place over areas where there will be minimal or no collateral damage.

Rafael is also working on a longer-range interceptor known as David's Sling, which is being developed with Raytheon. David's Sling is designed to counter medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, and is expected to be the second tier in Israel's multiple-tier system of missile defense.

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