Northrop Grumman to build 19 GQM-163A drones for training defenders to fight hypersonic cruise missiles

Nov. 6, 2020
Navy will use the drones to help surface warship crews practice how to detect and defeat incoming supersonic and hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – Aerial target experts at the Northrop Grumman Space Systems segment (formerly Orbital ATK) in Chandler, Ariz., are building supersonic target drones for the U.S. Navy and Army to help hone missile-defense skills -- particularly against hypersonic weapons.

Officials of the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced a $57.1 million order to Northrop Grumman on Tuesday to build 195 GQM-163A lot 14 Coyote supersonic sea skimming target base vehicles -- 16 for the Navy and three for Japan.

The Navy will use the supersonic target drones to help surface warship crews practice how to detect and defeat incoming supersonic anti-ship missiles. The Army also uses the Coyote to test and evaluate the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) limited user test target system.

LTAMDS, under development by Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., is to be an advanced 360-degree land-based missile-defense radar system to replace the ageing Patriot missile system that has been in the U.S. inventory for more than three decades.

Related: Northrop Grumman to build 15 GQM-163A Coyote supersonic sea skimming target drones for missile defense

The GQM-163A Coyote supersonic sea skimming target provides an affordable target to simulate supersonic sea-skimming and other emerging supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles. It also supports research in ship-defense systems and fleet training.

The supersonic target drone is designed to help Navy ship crews learn to defend themselves against modern anti-ship missiles like the French Exocet and the Russian-made SS-N-22 Sunburn and SS-NX-26 Oniks, which may be operational with military forces in Iran, Syria, and other countries in the Middle East.

The Coyote drone also could help surface warship crews and land-based counter-missile battery crews learn to fight effectively against a new generation of hypersonic cruise missiles that could reach speeds of Mach 5 or faster.

Related: The emerging world of hypersonic weapons technology

The Sunburn anti-ship missile can fly at three times the speed of sound, giving targeted vessels little time to react. It carries a 705-pound explosive warhead -- twice the destructive payload of the Exocet and three times as fast.

The Oniks missile, more advanced than the Sunburn, can fly as fast as Mach 2.5, and carries a 661-pound warhead. Not only is this missile far faster and more powerful than the Exocet, but it may have the capability to maneuver on its terminal flight to its target, which could make defeating it difficult, if not impossible.

The Sunburn and Oniks missiles have sufficient destructive payloads to pose serious threats to large U.S. warships like aircraft carriers, which are at the heart of U.S. power-projection strategies around the world.

Related: Military researchers ask industry to develop rugged materials for hypersonic radomes and infrared windows

the GQM-163A Coyote supersonic sea skimming target is a non-recoverable, supersonic aerial target, capable of speeds of Mach 2 or greater and altitudes from 13 to 66 feet above the surface of the ocean, Northrop Grumman officials say. Northrop Grumman won a contract to develop the GQM-163A in 2000, and the target drone has been operational since 2005.

The GQM-163A drone simulates sea-skimming cruise missiles by flying faster than twice the speed of sound as low as 12 feet off the surface of the ocean. The target drone also can simulate high-altitude cruise missile attacks that plunge down at ships from higher than 30,000 feet.

On this order Northrop Grumman Space Systems will do the work in Camden, Ark.; Chandler, Ariz; Vergennes, Vt.; Cincinnati; Oconomowoc, Wis.; Lancaster, Pa.; and other U.S. locations, and should be finished by December 2023. For more information contact Northrop Grumman Space Systems online at, or Naval Air Systems Command at

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