Airborne Infrared (photo : Aviation Week)
MDA Eyes Missile-Detecting Infrared PodHUNTSVILLE, Ala. — In its efforts to develop an unmanned aerial system capable of detecting boosting ballistic missiles, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is focusing on a sensor pod that could fly on existing UAVs, rather than a new, integrated UAV design, according to MDA Director Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.
MDA’s interest in an Airborne Infrared (ABIR) system carried by a UAV intensified last year. General Atomics Reapers, with the Raytheon MTS-B electro-optical/IR/full-motion video sensor, have proven the ability to detect and track a boosting missile from greater than 1,000 km. (621 mi.) with “remarkable resolution,” O’Reilly told reporters at this week’s Space and Missile Defense Conference here.
MDA is doing the groundwork to see what qualities an objective sensor would need and how the data would be integrated into the larger sensor cueing and command and control architecture. The ultimate goal is to link all sensors and shooters into a networked system.
A specific ABIR fleet of UAVs is cost prohibitive, so now the focus is on designing the pod, which could be flown on an Air Force system such as Reaper, O’Reilly says. Global Hawk also could be an option.
“An infrared seeker has limited ability to discriminate at that range, but it has great ability to track. So … it relieves the X-band radars from doing some of the long-range searching,” for threats, O’Reilly says. “It is much more cost-effective to build a pod that you can just attach to any remotely piloted vehicle” rather than focusing on designing the ABIR capability into a platform.
Using a UAV-carried ABIR pod, MDA hopes to capture precise tracking data of a ballistic missile in the boost phase and provide targeting-quality data to the Aegis system; ultimately, it could help facilitate intercept of threats shortly after they reach apogee.
The first ABIR test that allowed for a Reaper to view a target took place in the spring of 2009, and each major MDA flight test since December has allowed for their participation.