Army developing small missile for big mission

The Miniature Hit-to-Kill Interceptor was launched vertically and then conducted a series of maneuvers to demonstrate required performance while capturing data during tests conducted in May 2012 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (U.S. Army photo by Michael A. Smith and Louis A. Rosales)

The Miniature Hit-to-Kill Interceptor is launched vertically and then conducts a series of maneuvers to demonstrate required performance while capturing data during tests conducted in May 2012 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (U.S. Army photo by Michael A. Smith and Louis A. Rosales)

By Ryan Keith, AMRDEC Public Affairs

One of the world’s smallest guided missiles has a big job to do.

The Miniature Hit-to-Kill, or MHTK, guided missile is about 27 inches long, 1.6 inches in diameter and weighs just 5 pounds. It has no warhead. Rather, as the name implies, it is designed to intercept and defeat rocket, artillery and mortar threats with kinetic energy during a direct hit.

The Aviation and Missile Research Engineering and Development Center is currently developing, fabricating and demonstrating MHTK as part of the Extended Area Protection and Survivability Integrated Demonstration, or EAPS ID. In June, the Army announced plans to complete development of MHTK, proposing a five-year follow-on contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control to complete missile development.

“The technologies being developed and integrated at AMRDEC are truly revolutionary,” said Loretta Painter, AMRDEC EAPS program manager.“The level of miniaturization being achieved with respect to seekers, sensors, control actuation, and electronics packaging is remarkable. Missile components of this size and functionality have never been developed and flight demonstrated; until now.”

Miniaturization, Modifications

EAPS ID is a science and technology program focused on developing and demonstrating critical technologies to counter rocket, artillery and mortar threats for potential transition to the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 Intercept, or IFPC Inc2-I, Program of Record.

IFPC Inc2-I is a ground-based weapon system that will integrate into the existing Air and Missile Defense architecture. It is designed to acquire, track, engage and defeat UAS, cruise missiles, rockets, artillery and mortar projectiles in flight. Desired capabilities include 360 degree hemispherical protection, an increase in the defendable area, effective defeat of multiple threat types, a reduced logistics burden, and affordable life cycle cost.

Initially researchers developed three candidate interceptors under EAPS ID, but in 2013, the requirements changed to exclude additional fire control sensors in the battlefield which led to a system down select. The Army redirected MHTK efforts to incorporate the risk reduction miniature fully active RF seeker that the AMRDEC had been working on with applied research S&T funding.

“We have gone from a semi-active seeker configuration to an active seeker configuration to eliminate the need for a ground-based illuminator,” Painter said.

The fully active RF variant of the MHTK missile self illuminates the target. Any ground-based or airborne sensor capable of tracking rockets, artillery, or mortar, commonly called RAM, threats can queue the MHTK guided missile. Once launched, and based on queuing, the missile flies autonomously to engage and defeat the threat.

While more expensive than the semi-active seeker, the fully active seeker provides greater precision needed for other potential target sets.

“Being able to hit a vulnerable part of the target as opposed to just hitting the target is a big advantage,” Painter said. “The active seeker will allow us to have aim point selection, to be able to select the place on the target that we want to hit to maximize lethality.”

Also in 2013 it was announced that all IFPC Inc2-I interceptors would share a common launcher, the Multi-Mission Launcher. In a separate effort managed by AMRDEC, the MML is being designed to fire a variety of missiles to meet IFPC Inc2-I requirements. The MML tubes allow for multiple missiles of different types to be loaded simultaneously.

MHTK is the smallest of the candidate interceptors to be integrated with the MML, and therefore promises the greatest load out. Load out, or the maximum number of missiles a launcher can hold, is a critical capability in combating saturation attacks, multiple simultaneous engagements with RAM threats. Four MHTK missiles will be integrated into each MML tube.

“If you had fifteen tubes, you would have a load out of sixty MHTK missiles. Or you could have some mix of larger missiles in some of the tubes, but it would still allow us to have a large loadout to meet the requirements in the CDD – the Capability Development Document,” Painter said.

Maturity

Under the EAPS ID program, MHTK components have been integrated and flight tested three times at White Sands Missile Range utilizing the semi-active RF seeker to provide proof of concept and lethality.

The first fully guided flight test of MHTK against a RAM target occurred in January 2014. While this flight test of MHTK was a very near miss, all the MHTK components with the exception of the seeker are considered to have achieved a technology readiness level of 6. These components include the control actuation system, inertial measurement unit, electronics, thermal battery, telemetry, airframe and rocket motor. The system is currently at technology readiness level 5.

Additional flights are scheduled through 2015, and will continue to use the semi-active RF seeker. Beginning in 2016, flight tests will use the fully active RF seeker.

In 2013, the Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office announced a block acquisition strategy for IFPC Inc2-I. Block 2 will address counter RAM capabilities.

Additional Applications

While the MHTK guided missile is currently being developed for the counter-RAM and counter-UAS missions using hit-to-kill lethality, this revolutionary miniature technology could be used as is or adapted to address other missions and requirements. For example, with the advancement of other miniature technologies such as semi active laser seekers and blast fragmenting warheads, this miniature technology could be adapted to a variety of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and ground-to-ground roles.