The Insider

Northrop Grumman radar may support ballistic missile defense warning system

December 05, 2017 |
Lee Hudson
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LINTHICUM, MD -- Northrop Grumman revealed today the company's distributed aperture system that is outfitted on the Joint Strike Fighter was flight tested three years ago to support the ballistic missile defense warning system.

John "Bama" Montgomery, 5th generation improvements and derivatives program manager at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, told reporters here at the company's facility the flight test, known as FTX-20 Experiment was conducted Oct. 16, 2014.

"This is the first time we have been cleared to release the event to the public. It encapsulates our collaboration with the Missile Defense Agency," Montgomery said.

The company used a surrogate commercial aircraft that was outfitted with DAS. The radar produced and communicated three-dimensional trajectory data at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii to the ballistic missile test bed in San Diego, CA, he said.

The DAS ground-based sensor autonomously detected a rocket during the experiment and categorized the event as a ballistic missile launch. The system then transmitted two-dimensional tracking information via Link 16 and the aircraft was able to track the rocket. Since the radar was communicating via Link 16, DAS can transmit information to Aegis, Patriot and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense systems, according to Montgomery.

"The strength comes in numbers like ants running around the Serengeti," he said. "You've got hundreds of F-35s or anything with a distributed aperture system, and now you have the ability to help the ballistic missile defense warning system."

In this scenario, a pilot operating an aircraft outfitted with DAS will know where the ballistic missile came from and where it is going. "It kind of flips the whole discussion of how we defend and this provides resiliency to that overhead structure," Montgomery said.

Since the FTX-20 Experiment three years ago Northrop Grumman, along with the government and other industry partners, conducted a series of modeling events to look at how this would change the BMD warning system. Montgomery said the numbers are classified, but it is "tactically significant."

There are five "BMD functions" where the DAS can be used: BMD tracking, raid handling and reentry events, trajectory estimation, launch point estimation and impact point prediction, he said.

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