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

Dec. 20, 2018
PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – Aerial target experts at the Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems segment (formerly Orbital ATK) in Dulles, Va., are building additional supersonic target drones for the U.S. Navy and Army to help hone missile-defense skills and technologies.
PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md. – Aerial target experts at the Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems segment (formerly Orbital ATK) in Dulles, Va., are building additional supersonic target drones for the U.S. Navy and Army to help hone missile-defense skills and technologies.

Officials of the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced a $46.5 million order to Northrop Grumman on Wednesday to build 15 GQM-163A lot 13 Coyote supersonic sea skimming target base vehicles -- 14 for the U.S. Navy and one for the Army.

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, meanwhile, will use its 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.

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The GQM-163A Coyote supersonic sea skimming target is designed to provide an affordable target to simulate supersonic sea-skimming and other emerging supersonic 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 for use against U.S. and allied naval forces in and around the Eastern Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and other vital waterways.

The target 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.

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.

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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.

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.

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Northrop Grumman won a contract to develop the GQM-163A in 2000, and the target drone has been operational since 2005. Last July the company won a $52.9 million contract to build 18 Coyote target drones. In October 2014 the company won a $27.7 million Navy contract to build eight GQM-163A systems.

The GQM-163A drone is designed to simulate 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 Innovation Systems will do the work in Chandler, Ariz; Camden, Ark.; Vergennes, Vt.; Lancaster, Pa.; and Hollister, Calif.; and should be finished by December 2022. For more information contact Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems online at www.northropgrumman.com, or Naval Air Systems Command at www.navair.navy.mil.

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About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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