Navy asks Orbital Sciences to build supersonic target drones for anti-ship missile training

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 13 Oct. 2014. Target drone experts at Orbital Sciences Corp. in Chandler, Ariz., are building supersonic target air vehicles for the U.S. Navy to help surface warship crews practice ways to detect and defeat incoming supersonic anti-ship missiles.

Navy asks Orbital Sciences to build supersonic target drones for anti-ship missile training
Navy asks Orbital Sciences to build supersonic target drones for anti-ship missile training
PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 13 Oct. 2014.Target drone experts at Orbital Sciences Corp. in Chandler, Ariz., are building supersonic target air vehicles for the U.S. Navy to help surface warship crews practice ways to detect and defeat incoming supersonic anti-ship missiles.

Officials of the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced a $27.7 million contract to Orbital on Friday to build eight GQM-163A Coyote supersonic sea skimming target base vehicles.

Half the new Coyote supersonic target drones are for the U.S. Navy and half are for the government of Japan. The French navy also operates the GQM-163A. The contract includes hardware, kits, and production support.

Related: How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

The GQM-163A Coyote supersonic sea skimming target is designed to provide a cost-effective target to simulate supersonic sea-skimming and other emerging supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, support research into ship defense systems, and support fleet training exercises.

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 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.

Related: Demonstration of new anti-ship missile nears end with $175 million contract to Lockheed Martin

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, Orbital officials say. Orbital won a contract to develop the GQM-163A in 2000, and the target drone has been operational since 2005.

Related: Lockheed Martin moves closer to demonstrating Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM)

The 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 contract Orbital Sciences will do the work in Chandler, Ariz; Camden, Ark.; Vergennes, Vt.; and Hollister, Calif.; and should be finished by June 2017.

For more information contact Orbital Sciences www.orbital.com, or Naval Air Systems Command at www.navair.navy.mil.

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