Pentagon seeks to build airborne infrared sensor for ballistic missile defense

By John Keller

WASHINGTON—Leaders of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) in Washington are trying to develop an airborne infrared sensor system within the next five years that is capable of tracking and intercepting enemy ballistic missiles in boost phase at or near engine burnout.

MDA issued a request for information (RFI) to industry, colleges, and government laboratories to determine the potential for developing airborne infrared (ABIR) sensor capability for fire-control-quality tracking of ballistic missiles at the end of the missiles’ boost phases to support early intercept. Data could be handed off to anti-missile systems like the Airborne Laser.

Missile Defense Agency officials want to be able to counter ballistic missiles like this one with airborne infrared sensors.
Click here to enlarge image

MDA officials want to understand if existing aircraft and infrared sensors could be modified and integrated to create a turreted, pod, or open-cavity airborne infrared system in less than five years to support ballistic missile defense.

First, MDA officials want to know what is the possibility of equipping 15 manned and unmanned aircraft to perform the airborne infrared missile defense mission by 2015.

Next, they want to understand the challenges of mounting a turreted electro-optical/infrared sensor pod as long as 22 inches and as heavy as 260 pounds to a manned or unmanned aircraft.

MDA officials also are interested in an infrared sensor pod for mounting to the tops of aircraft. The sensor pod should measure three feet in diameter, eight feet long, and weigh 1,100 pounds. Sensor pods must not interfere with satellite communications antennas.

For infrared sensors, MDA officials want to know wavebands, clear apertures, fields of view, noise equivalent irradiance, and frame rates, pointing errors, whether inertial measurement gyros are used, angular stabilization of the sensor’s boresight, slew endurance, and settle time.

Concerning sensor processing, MDA officials want to know if suggested sensors have auto trackers able to track targets simultaneously against a uniform background. MDA officials also want to know how suggested sensors behave at altitudes above 35,000 feet.

The MDA contracting officer on this RFI is Elizabeth Moulder, who is available by phone at 256-450-1014, or by e-mail at More information on this request for information is online at

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August 2015
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