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Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile (LEAP)

The Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile (LEAP) is a miniaturized kinetic kill vehicle that, once delivered on a path towards the ballistic missile target, detects, acquires, and homes in on that target. LEAP destroys the target missile by force of impact. Efforts to pursue advanced, lightweight, low-cost components for space-based and ground-based ballistic missile defense interceptors have generated significant progress in the LEAP program in the early 1990s. The LEAP program succeeded in developing several miniature kill vehicles all weighing under 20 kilograms. These LEAP vehicles have undergone a series of hover tests to demonstrate their abilities to "fly" and, using optical seekers, acquire and track ballistic missile targets.

The Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile (LEAP) interceptor is a highly modular, lightweight, space tested kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) designed to defend against medium- and long-range ballistic missile attacks. Raytheon began development of the LEAP Kinetic Kill Vehicle (KKV) in 1985. The LEAP KKV had been validated in over a thousand simulation runs, over a hundred ground tests, several hover tests and several space flight tests.

The goal of the LEAP program, as originally conceived in 1985, was to develop and integrate the world's first advanced, miniature kinetic energy interceptors and associated technologies; and then to demonstrate their capabilities through extensive ground testing. The technologies were intended to enable development of ground-and space-based systems in support of the then-proposed Strategic Defense System architecture.

In 1985, the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) began the LEAP program, pioneering the development of small, miniaturized kill vehicle technology. At that time, the program's focus was to drive down weight and size of a kill vehicle for application in electromagnetic gun and rocket interceptor weapons. A year earlier, the U.S. Army demonstrated a successful exoatmospheric kinetic energy kill vehicle in the Homing Overlay Experiment. The kill vehicle in that experiment weighed over 200 kilograms and was about the size of a refrigerator. The challenge the LEAP team accepted was to drive down that weight by more than an order of magnitude to roughly ten kilograms.

Although aggressive design objectives were established, the original design goals did not necessarily evolve from stringent system requirements. Instead, near-term vehicles were developed to demonstrate the validity of fully integrated miniature interceptors and to represent a step on the path towards an operational KKV system. Because of this flexible development approach, even though the missile defense architecture has changed in response to the changing global environment, the LEAP program has been able to maintain a robust, supporting technology focus.

The LEAP program had progressed from a series of highly successful hover tests at BMDO's National Hover Testing Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, California. In June 1991 the LEAP 2 Integrated Vehicle Strapdown and Free Flight Hover tests were successfully completed. These hover tests allowed the completely integrated LEAP vehicle to lift itself off of a test stand and hover autonomously in free flight using its divert and attitude control system propulsion systems. While in unencumbered free flight, the LEAP acquired and tracked a scaled infrared target and performed a series of maneuvers as dictated by the particular objectives of specific tests.

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