A revolution in air defense” is what Rafael Executive Vice President Lova Drori calls current trends in protecting ground and sea targets from all kinds of air-delivered threats, from the cheapest unguided rockets and mortars to combat aircraft and the most advanced cruise and ballistic missiles.

There are several main trends at work, Drori says. One is a widening variety of missiles—“if you have one or two systems to protect against everything, it's not cost effective”—and another is the networking of launchers in a single air defense system. “If a threat comes in, the commander can push a button and an interceptor will be launched, but the commander will not necessarily choose which one.”

Rafael is expanding its air-defense offerings both up and down the threat scale, adding to the established and successful Spyder, based on ground-launched versions of the infrared-homing Python and active-radar Derby air-to-air missiles (AAMs). Both missiles can be mixed in pallet-mounted box launchers, in two sizes—long-range versions with boosters and medium-range weapons without. While the Spyder vehicle can be equipped with an infrared turret for self-contained engagements, the launchers are designed to be connected to a radio-frequency net that also links surveillance and tracking radars and command centers.

Both missiles can operate in lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) mode—they have a programmed course to an intercept point at launch, which is updated via datalink during flight. This makes the entire system much more flexible than earlier tactical surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), where a dedicated tracking radar followed the target through the entire engagement. And as active, electronically scanned array (AESA) technology from airborne and shipboard radars makes its way into ground-mobile radars, the system becomes all the more capable.

Rafael's new low-end product is the Iron Dome counter-rocket and mortar (C-RAM) system, for which Drori sees three customer groups: nations like Israel, with unstable or hostile border communities; armies that need to protect forward-deployed forces from C-RAM attack; and countries that want to protect coastal sites—such as nuclear power installations—from small-boat attack. As Drori points out, the lesson of the disruption of Japan's Fukushima plant by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is “you don't need to penetrate the concrete, just disable the cooling system.”

The company's other major new program is David's Sling, initially being developed as a lower-tier complement to Israel Aerospace Industries' Arrow. “If the Americans select it, it will be huge,” says Drori. “If not, it will still be big. If customers buy according to needs, everyone should buy it. The potential market is huge.”

The Stunner missile component of the David's Sling system, codeveloped with Raytheon, has several unique features. It is a hit-to-kill weapon and consequently needs no fuzing system. It has a dual-mode seeker combining a millimeter-wave AESA with an imaging infrared seeker. A multipulse motor (plus first-stage booster) and 12 control surfaces combine Mach 5-plus speed with endgame energy—the last pulse can be saved for the final intercept.

David's Sling has multiple missile-defense roles. Against intermediate-range missiles, in conjunction with Arrow, it can provide a shoot-look-shoot option rather than launching two of the costlier Arrows in salvo. It can provide stand-alone site or base defense against shorter-range weapons and could be adapted for terminal defense at sea. Seeker, propulsion and aerodynamics are also suitable for cruise-missile defense.

However, the missile is being developed with a second role in mind. Rafael's view is that in the future, AAMs will be derived from SAMs and not the other way around, as in the past, because of the larger volumes in the SAM market. Minus the booster, Stunner is smaller than the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile but is claimed to have greater range and lethality—at least comparable to the MBDA Meteor. Known informally as Future AAM, the Stunner-derived AAM will be designed for both ejector and rail launch, with rail lugs jettisonable to reduce drag.

Another future development, Drori predicts, will be a system that provides an umbrella of protection for moving forces. Rather than protecting individual vehicles and units, “it will know, every second, what is happening” and create a safety zone—making it possible to reduce the self-protection installed on individual vehicles.

A similar “multimission missile” concept is being pursued in the U.K., as part of the biggest program so far in the Team Complex Weapons initiative announced at the Farnborough show four years ago. A $763 million, five-year contract to demonstrate the Sea Ceptor shipboard SAM was awarded to MBDA at the end of January. Initially, Sea Ceptor will replace the aging Seawolf missiles on upgraded Type 23 Duke-class frigates, but it is also destined for the future Type 26. (Both the upgraded and new ships survived May's defense review in London.)

Sea Ceptor uses the external shape of the AIM-132 Advanced Short Range AAM, but has a new radar seeker (and presumably many other internal changes, although MBDA has not talked about them in detail) and a datalink. It is “radar agnostic” but will be paired with the BAE Systems Artisan 3-D radar on British ships. Its 25-nm range should allow it to intercept the notorious Novator 3M-54E before it deploys its rocket-powered kill stage.

An important feature of Sea Ceptor is a “soft vertical launch” system in which a small low-pressure gas generator module kicks the missile out of the launch cell, and thrusters orient it toward the target. Because this does not require the flame uptakes needed by the hot-launch Seawolf, and the missile itself is smaller—up to four missiles can fit in the same space as one Seawolf—and the weapon can also be produced in a land-based version that was planned as a Rapier replacement for the British Army. Vertical launch means that the weapon can be fired from concealed positions. Ultimately, the missile will also be a follow-on to Asraam.

In the U.S., however, air- and missile-defense programs are dominated by high-end, exo-atmospheric missile defense. One result of this emphasis is a continuing evolution in requirements for one of the biggest U.S. missile-defense programs, the U.S. Navy's Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). This is the sensor package for the future Flight III configuration of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, one of the cornerstones of the Navy's—and nation's —plans for ballistic missile defense, for the fleet and allies abroad.

The Navy is considering a phased approach to the deployment of the X-band sensor for the suite, according to industry sources' initial analysis of the draft AMDR request for proposal (RFP).

The AMDR suite consists of an S-band radar, X-band radar and a Radar Suite Controller (RSC). The S-band radar (AMDR-S) an all-new radar providing sensitivity for long-range detection and engagement of advanced threats. The X-band radar is to be a horizon-search radar based on existing technology.

As noted in the draft RFP released in April, AMDR is planned for installation aboard the Flight III Burkes from the outset, but defense analysts have questioned whether it will prove too expensive to develop and deploy AMDR on that flight, given limits on technology, topweight and power.

It appears, that the Navy is trying to keep a lid on costs and risk with X-band development on AMDR. Under the new plan, for the first dozen ships, the AMDR suite will combine the new AMDR-S with the Northrop Grumman SPQ-9B X-band radar—the latest version of a veteran design that was fitted to the earlier Ticonderoga cruisers, but not to the Burkes. The idea of reintroducing the “Spook-9” was a complement to the S-band AESA in Aegis was previously adopted by Australia, which has specified it for its new Hobart-class destroyers.

The SPQ-9B is a pulse-Doppler radar using the transmitter from F-16's APG-68. The latest version, sources note, is SPQ-9B-3D, which adds a 3-D volume air search mode. SPQ-9B was installed as original equipment on the LPD-17s, the two newest LHD amphibious ships, and latest Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

Starting with the 13th ship set, the AMDR-X, a phased array non-developmental X-band radar, will be incorporated into the AMDR suite.

Navy officials remain optimistic they will eventually be able to get all the technology development and capability for AMDR they had planned for. Key technology for the AMDR is advancing more quickly than the service brass had anticipated, says Rear Adm. James Syring, the program executive officer for integrated defense systems.

Especially promising, Syring said in April during the Navy League's Sea Air Space conference, has been the development of gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor technology to address weight, cooling and operational needs to fit AMDR on Flight III DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

Raytheon announced last year that it was basing its AMDR proposals and other future programs on GaN, predicting that it would be a major improvement over today's gallium arsenide (GaAs) technology and eventually supersede it. Raytheon said that GaN had always offered high performance, but that company engineers had only recently solved reliability problems, with a design that mounts GaN on a silicon carbide substrate. GaN has five to 10 times the power density of GaAs—providing more power from smaller arrays—better conductivity, easier cooling, higher gain, greater efficiency and lower noise. GaN radars will be better able to detect small—read stealthy—targets and will increase range by at least 50% for a similarly sized antenna.

But recent government reports—including a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released in January—have questioned whether GaN technology development is mature enough for AMDR's transmit/receiver modules. To generate AMDR's greater power, GAO notes, “The contractors may use gallium nitride-based semiconductors, which may provide higher power and efficiency than current material.” However, GAO cautions, “This material is relatively new and long-term reliability is unknown. It has never been used in a radar of this scale.”

GAO further says, “Inability to use GaN may require use of current materials, and thus additional ship power and cooling. Alternatively, performance requirements may be set lower with a spiral development plan to achieve the objective power levels at a later date.” Past radar programs, GAO says, including the Volume Search Radar and the Cobra Judy Replacement radar —“have needed more time to test and mature transmit/receive modules than estimated, causing cost and schedule growth.”

Issues such as these have led many defense analysts to wonder whether the Navy would be able to put AMDR on a Flight III Burkes—or even be able to afford the radar suite at all.

“A lot has been written” (about the AMDR's future), Syring says. “A lot that's incorrect.”

Thanks to GaN technology and other developments, he says, the Navy should be able to put AMDR on Flight III ships and have adequate growth for coolant equipment and needs. A final RFP is expected imminently, with a source selection by the end of the calendar year.

Meanwhile, upgrades to the existing combat system for destroyers and other ships, the Advanced Capabilities Build (ACB-12) for Aegis, should also be completing major tests by the end of the calendar year at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Syring says. The availability to put the Aegis Baseline 9 upgrades on the cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), which started last month, is an important milestone to complete, he says. “It is going to be huge.”

At the same time, the number of operational anti-air warfare ships carrying the MBDA-Thales Aster—the first European systems claimed to match the capability of the long-dominant Aegis—is increasing, with the system in service with the U.K., France, Italy and Singapore. The U.K.'s first Type 45 Aster-armed destroyers, Daring and Dauntless, underwent their first long-distance deployments (to the Persian Gulf and Falklands, respectively) earlier this year, and officers are not shy about comparing the performance of its rotating-AESA Samson tracking radar and long-range S1850M surveillance radar to the fixed-antenna Aegis.

France accomplished a testing first on April 4 by using the Aster and radar systems on two Horizon-class frigates, Forbin and Chevalier Paul, to shoot down a GQM-163A Coyote supersonic sea-skimming target, supplied by the U.S., over the Mediterranean. France's Ile de Levant test range is the only non-U.S. test site that uses the Coyote, developed by Orbital Sciences to simulate supersonic sea-skimming missiles—mostly developed in Russia, but now including the Russian-Indian BrahMos, and being offered widely for sale.

Originally designed for air, ship or submarine launch, these weapons are now being delivered in truck-mobile versions for littoral defense, making their launchers elusive targets. The Novator 3M-54 Klub missile family, originally designed for submarine launch, has been advertised in a variant housed in a standard shipping container that could be fired from a railcar, a truck or an ostensibly civilian ship.

Even testing missiles against these weapons is challenging, because authentic target missiles are expensive, and because the missile wreckage can seriously damage the target even if it is disabled before it is hit. The French were extremely surprised that the U.S. Navy itself announced the success of the April 4 trial, as they believe that the Americans have undertaken around 20 tests against the Coyote and have never announced anything. The French therefore interpret this as meaning that none of the U.S. tests have ever succeeded.

The test was particularly challenging in that the missile launch was from Forbin (French authorities are not saying whether one or more Aster 30 missiles was fired) while the target was tracked from Chevalier Paul.

“Post-Cold War, nobody was paying much attention to anti-ship missiles but the Russians finished programs that had been started in the Soviet era,” explains Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Then India got involved and seems to have provided considerable funding to co-develop with the Russians the BrahMos, which is basically a Russian SS-N-26 (3N-55) Onyx missile.”

An MBDA spokesman told DTI that Aster was conceived “to be able to counter a supersonic missile that could only be detected very late,” like the BrahMos. Aster is a two-stage missile with a large booster and comparatively small upper stage “dart” which, once separated from the lower stage, uses aerodynamic surfaces for midcourse and direct thrusters built into its wings for endgame control.

“Given the relative proliferation of these weapons,” remarks Barrie, “Western navies are now needing to find some way of countering this threat.” He adds that the success of the Aster trial is a “feather in the cap” of the French navy as it proves that it has an answer to the threat.