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GQM-173A Multi-Stage Supersonic Target (MSST)

The case for a Threat D [SS-N-27 Sizzler] target had been kicked around for years. A Navy assessment of surface ship self-defense capabilities conducted in 1998 concluded that only the 12 Whidbey Island and Harpers Ferry class amphibious ships have or will be equipped with defensive systems that can provide measurable improvement against near- and mid-term cruise missile threats. The assessment projected that none of the improvements the Navy plans to make in the future would provide any ship class a high level of self-defense capability against far-term threats.

Threat D is a Russian sea-skimming, anti-ship cruise missilewith a unique flight profile. It starts with subsonic flight, but as it nears its shiptarget, the vehicle separates into two sections, and the warhead stage flies asupersonic, sea-skimming profile to the target.

The challenge for the U.S.weapon system engaging this target is to successfully track the warhead-containing vehicle through this transition and to rapidly recognize the increase in target velocity and accurately adjust the launch-now intercept point if the missile has not been launched or the predicted intercept point if the missile is in the air. This is a non-trivial job for the U.S. weapon systems tracking, guidance and engagement logic hardware and software, and full-scale testing against the complete flight trajectory regime was needed to assure that a workable scheme has been developed and perfected.

This subsonic-supersonic transition and the separation of the vehicle into two pieces may present a source of confusion to a ships defense system. A test target that emulates this unique target profile is needed. The Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University conducted astudy of ways to emulate a Threat D profile. They found that a Tomahawk cruisemissile with a Standard Missile-2 (or an Improved Hawk) front end could producea viable subsonic-supersonic profile.

The GQM-173A target emulates a two-stage anti-ship cruise missile. The GQM-173A would have a subsonic bus stage vehicle which would tumble and fall into the sea, and a supersonic sprint stage vehicle which continues flight to impact. The fielded system will provide threat representation in support of DT&E and OT&E and will identify deficiencies in shipboard air defense systems.

The mission of the Aerial Target Systems Development program is the design and development of threat representative subsonic and supersonic aerial targets that simulate threat weapon systems. In addition to representative air vehicles, this includes development of Target Control (TC) systems, and associated TargetAugmentation and Auxiliary Systems (TA/AS) which are used to replicate specific threats. Targets are developed to support test and evaluation of combat systemsrequired to defend fleet surface and air units in a hostile environment.

In mid-2007, the US Navy launched the Multi-Stage Supersonic Target (MSST) program to simulate the SS-N-27 Sizzler anti-ship missile, and assigned the ZGQM-173A designation to the future aircraft. The GQM-173 must have, as it simulates missile, subsonic cruise speed and a phase of approach supersonic Mach 2.8 at low altitude with maneuvering capabilities with high load factor.

On 02 September 2008 Alliant Techsystems (NYSE: ATK) announced that it has been awarded a $97 million contract for the design, development, integration, and test of the Multi-Stage Supersonic Target (MSST) by the Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland. With incentives, the value of the contract announced today could reach $103 million. The system design and development phase of the program is expected to be complete by October 2012. Once this phase of the program concludes, the company believed there could be follow-on production awards that generate significant business for ATK over the next decade. The initial contract included the construction of 7 prototypes, the inaugural flight of which was planned for 2011. The tests were to run until the end of 2012. The first prototype was out of production in January 2011, with a first flight in May 2011.

The MSST will simulate a two-stage anti-ship cruise missile threat. It consists of a two-stage unmanned aerial target, a launcher, and associated support equipment. The U.S. Navy will use MSST to evaluate the operational effectiveness of weapons/combat systems against next-generation surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles that cruise at subsonic speeds, initiate a separation event, and then make a supersonic dash to the intended target.

Under terms of the contract, ATK and its teammate, CEi of Sacramento, Calif., will build two engineering evaluation units and seven engineering development models. MSST is the foundation for ATK's targets and anti-ship missile strategy and is the result of an innovative design team and world class systems engineering tools deployed in ATK's virtual engineering network. The MSST will provide threat representation for the developmental and operational testing of major weapon systems. Work will be performed in Sacramento, Calif., Woodland Hills, Calif., Plymouth, Minn., Elkton, Md., and Wichita, Kan.

Its entry into service was scheduled for 2014, but the program suffered from delays in design and cost overruns. The GQM-173A Multi-Stage Supersonic Target (MSST) program resumed Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) flight testing in late 2013. In FY15 funding increased by a $0.862 million to GQM-173A Multi-Stage Supersonic Target (MSST) as additional funds were required to support the GQM-173A RDTEN range extension activities for integration of a new booster intended to significantly reduce technical and schedule risk in Development Testing efforts.

The Multi Stage Supersonic Target (MSST) (designated the GQM-173A) program increased in design/development costs and experienced test failures, requiring the program to re-baseline. The MSST program will field a rocket-launched supersonic vehicle capability in FY18 with an end-to-end capability to follow. This rebaseline resulted in additional funding requirements in FY16. In FY16, $41.8 million was reprogrammed from WPN (BLI 2280) to mitigate the funding shortfall and continue the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development phase to complete required testing. Additionally, $5.8 million was also provided in FY16 to accelerate testing and fielding of a rocket-launched supersonic capability to satisfy near term Fleet test requirements.

In FY16, Aerial Target System Development was decreased by $37.4M for termination of the MSST program. All associated MSST investment funding was removed from Aerial Target System Development in FY 2017 ($56.025M) and future years for the program termination by the Department of the Navy.

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