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Aerial Target

Aerial targets and associated equipment are used in gunnery and rocketry, and for missile practice by ships and shore installations. They are also used in air-to-air firing exercises. Firing at targets that simulate moving aircraft improves the battle efficiency of the Navy and provides useful information for evaluating armament control/weapons systems under development for operational use by the fleet.

The weapons system community selects a target that closely simulates enemy threats. Target selection must be carefully made to test the effectiveness of a particular weapons system. Emphasis is placed on selecting suitable targets for weapons evaluation and fleet training as weapons become more specialized and their performance evaluation more complex.

The aerial target program involves a wide variety of vehicles and related instrumentation. Full-scale targets are a necessary part of the test target inventory, because certain aspects of an engagement by a missile depend on geometric and signature details that can be captured only by a large airframe. One example of this is related to the final guiding and fuzing of a radarguided missile where glints from overlapping returns from different areas of an extended target will affect the performance of the missile differently from that associated with a small, compact target. In general, miss distance will increase towards the end of the engagement, particularly for todays high performance missiles that employ fast response times. Another example is the lethality of the missile: how effective is the blast pressure, the warhead fragments (along their relative velocity vectors to various locations along the extended target) and the missile body contact, if achieved, in bringing down the target.

While there is much tension and concern in the testing community with the accuracy of threat replications, there is seemingly much less angst over enemy on-board countermeasures. Yet, these countermeasures can dominate the outcome of an engagement of an enemy air vehicle. The nature of specific electronic countermeasures that might be carried on, say, a Russian-built anti-ship missile are very hard to deduce, whereas the general size, shape, and kinematics of such a cruise missile are more easily obtained through classical intelligence gathering. This presents a substantial challenge to the air defense test and training community.

With regard to helicopters, there is a surprising dearth of testing against helicopter targets. The Army had [as of 2005] some 20 UH-1 drone helicopters, which were expensive to maintain and were being mothballed. OSD DOT&E was funding an Army-led, tri-service analysis of helicopter target needs in 2006. The results of this assessment will be an important guidepost for rejuvenating testing against helicopter threats.

The Army, the Navy, and the Air Force at Ft. Bliss, Point Mugu, and Tyndall AFB, respectively, have each developed their own one-of-a-kind target control system, both the ground-based instrumentation and the target control electronics that flies on the various air vehicles. Interoperability is limited, and the flexibility to use each others test range resources is absent. One can envision the gradual introduction of common control elements that would eventually provide us with the ability to shoot any target on any range. This approach will yield operations cost savings over time, since todays one-of-a-kind systems will become increasingly difficult to service, maintain, and upgrade. Target interoperability will also facilitate better joint testing and training. Past attempts at common control have failed.

The Defense Science Board Task Force on Test and Training Sub-scale and Full-scale Aerial Targets was convened in December 2004 and concluded its deliberations in July 2005. The Task Force was chartered to assess the future need for full-scale and sub-scale aerial targets for developmental and operational testing and for training of our air defense systems operators. Ballistic missile targets were not part of the charter.

The Russians have produced and deployed a variety of supersonic, anti-ship cruise missiles. Some of these missiles are sea-skimming vehicles; others attack from high altitudes. At the time of the October 2005 Defense Science Board Task Force, the United States had zero capability to test its air defense systems such as AEGIS or Improved Sea Sparrow against supersonic targets, and the Task Force viewed this shortfall as the major deficiency in our overall aerial targets enterprise.

Threat D is a Russian sea-skimming, anti-ship cruise missile with a unique flight profile. It starts with subsonic flight, but as it nears its ship target, the vehicle separates into two sections, and the warhead stage flies a supersonic, sea-skimming profile to the target. 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. By 2005 the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University had conducted a study of ways to emulate a Threat D profile. They found that a Tomahawk cruise missile with a Standard Missile-2 (or an Improved Hawk) front end could produce a viable subsonic-supersonic profile.



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