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Space weapons and missile defence technology


In 2007 Reaching Critical Will investigated technologies and programmes related to missile defence and potential space weaponization. We found that there are dozens of programmes in various stages of development. The following is a compilation of those under development or in planning as of March 2007. RCW has also compiled a list of aerospace corporations involved in developing these technologies.

Contact person: Ray Acheson

Partner organisation: Secure World Foundation

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense
Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense is the sea-based portion of the Ballistic Missile Defense system. It incorporates the Aegis Weapon System, the Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile Intercept, the Standard Missile-3, and the Navy Ballistic Missile systems.  It is part of the Sea-based Midcourse Defense System. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin
Subcontractors: Boeing, Computer Sciences Corporation, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Orbital Sciences Corporation, Honeywell, Raytheon

Airborne Laser
The Airborne Laser is intended to destroy hostile missiles right as they are launched, before the warheads separate from the missile. It consists of a chemical laser and beam director mounted on a Boeing 747. The laser is intended to disable the missile by hitting it long enough that the heat causes sufficient damage to the missile’s body to stop its acceleration, causing the warhead to fall short of its target. It also has anti-satellite capabilities. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman
Subcontractors: Analytical Graphics, Inc., Honeywell

Alternative Infrared Satellite System
The Alternative Infrared Satellite System program is being designed as an alternative to the Space Based Infrared program.  It is supposedly easier to build but more capable.  The Alternative program is intended to provide missile warning and missile defense for the US beginning in 2015. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: General Dynamics

Arrow Interceptor
The Arrow Interceptor is a “fragmentation warhead” used to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Boeing and Israel Aircraft Industries

Boeing Orbital Express System
The Boeing Orbital Express System is another project aimed at developing a fully autonomous (unmanned) satellite. Like the XSS, its primary objective is to refuel and service satellites on-orbit, and, also like the XSS, it has clear military applications. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Boeing
Subcontractors: Ball Aerospace, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman

Common Aero Vehicle/Hypersonic Technology Vehicle
The Common Aero Vehicle was originally conceived as an unmanned spacecraft that would travel at five times the speed of sound, carrying 1,000 pounds of munitions or troops from the US to anywhere in the world within two hours.   In 2004, the offensive strike part of the project was cancelled and the Common Aero Vehicle was renamed Hypersonic Technology Vehicle. However, Hypersonic Technology Vehicles will use the same transportation technology, leaving plenty of room for offensive vehicles in the future.  In the President’s fiscal year 2008 budget request, $32.8 million was requested for the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle.  The first test of the vehicle is scheduled for 2008-09. (More information...)
Contractors: Aerojet, Aerospace Corporation, Alliant Techsystems, Andrews Space, Raytheon, Schafer Corporation

Common Missile Warning System
This system was developed to warn tactical fighters against infrared missile threats and cue countermeasures to take out the missile. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: BAE

Counter-Man Portable Air Defense Systems
The Counter-MANPADS program is an initiative launched in 2003 to install anti-missile systems on commercial airliners as a countermeasure against MANPADS. MANPADS are shoulder-launched missiles that are considered to be a particular threat to airplanes and helicopters. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell once warned that "no threat is more serious to aviation" than MANPADS, which are easy to use and readily available on the black market.  A 2005 Rand study estimated it would cost $11 billion to protect every US airliner from MANPADS.  In addition, Aviation Week reports, “The Bush Administration has spent more that $121 million researching counter-MANPADS measures since 2003, but DHS has never committed to acquiring any specific technology.” (More information...)
Prime Contractors: BAE, Northrop Grumman

Defense Support Program
The Defense Support Program is a satellite system that warns the US military of missile launches. The 23 satellites in the system use infrared detectors to sense heat from missile plumes, in order to detect missile launches, space launches, and nuclear detonations. Defense Support Program satellites have been the spaceborne segment of NORAD's Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment System since 1970, but they are to be replaced by the Space Based Infrared System. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman
Subcontractors: Aerojet, Aerospace Corporation

Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology space vehicle
The technology developed here will allow spacecraft to rendezvous with other spacecraft without human interaction.   As with the XSS-11 microsatellite, the capacity that enables spacecraft to maneuver around others to service them can also allow it to destroy them. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Orbital Sciences Corporation

Escort program
Escort satellites carry sensors and lightweight missiles to defend distant satellites against an anti-satellite  attack. They can permanently or temporarily disable large satellites, giving them the ability to carry out anti-satellite attacks themselves. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: AeroAstro

Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle
The Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle is the intercept component of the Ground Based Interceptor, the weapon element of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. It is designed to take out hostile ballistic missile targets outside the atmosphere while the missiles are in flight. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Raytheon
Subcontractor: Lockheed Martin

Experimental Spacecraft System-10 (XSS-10)
Precursor to the XSS-11.
Prime Contractor: Boeing
Subcontractors: Octant Technologies, Science Applications International Corporation

Experimental Spacecraft System-11 (XSS-11)
The XSS-11 is a 100 kg microsatellite that is able to “meet” with other space objects in orbit, and maneuver close to them to inspect them or perform maintenance tasks. However, defense officials and technology experts agree that the XSS-11 could easily be used as an anti-satellite weapon: “The same capacity built into XSS-11 that enables it to maneuver around another satellite it is servicing can also allow the spacecraft to disable or destroy adversary satellites, if desired.” Theresa Hitchens of the Center for Defense Information in Washington and Jeffrey Lewis of Harvard University’s Belfer Center argue, “such a satellite could house a small kinetic-kill vehicle designed to smash into a nearby enemy satellite,” while an Air Force study “raised the possibility of borrowing technology from the Army's Kinetic Energy Anti-Satellite, or KE-ASAT, program for its own microsatellites.”  Lewis points out that the study's “single strongest recommendation” was “the deployment, as rapidly as possible, of XSS-10-based satellites to intercept, image and, if needed, take action against a target satellite.”   John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, points out that by building the XSS-11 “to be relatively cheap and easy to launch, it also may be expendable and replaceable in an anti-satellite role.”  One anonymous defense official agreed that the XSS-11 “doesn't need any modifications to kill a satellite . . . It's capable of doing all the missions that KE-ASAT is intended to do -- and then some. That's been proven in the flight test.” (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin
Subcontractors: Octant Technologies, Science Applications International Corporation

Force Application and Launch from Continental United States (FALCON)
FALCON, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)/Air Force project, originally intended to develop a reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle, a Common Aero Vehicle, and a Small Launch Vehicle, a low-cost launch system.  In 2004, however, FALCON became Falcon, the Common Aero Vehicle became the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (without offensive capabilities), and in 2005 Lockheed Martin received $11.7 million for the second phase of the Small Launch Vehicle program. (More information...)
Contractors: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman
Subcontractors: Aerojet, Aerospace Corporation, Alliant Techsystems, Andrews Space, SpaceX

Ground-based Midcourse Defense system
Located in Fort Greeley, Alaska, with a sister-site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system is the heart of the US missile defense system.  It is designed to intercept long-range missiles headed for the continental US. This system is theoretically dual-use, as it will be capable of shooting down satellites – “a task that is considerably easier than shooting down an intercontinental ballistic missile because satellites travel in regular, predictable orbits.”  However, serious technical issues have plagued the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. In tests, the incerceptor rockets have failed to make it out of the launch tube, and the kill vehicles (the component designed to take out the incoming missile/warhead) have failed to separate from their rockets.  It also has anti-satellite capabilities. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Boeing
Subcontractors: Alliant Techsystems, Bechtel Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation, Honeywell, IBM, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Miltec Corporation, Northrop Grumman, Orbital Sciences Corporation, Raytheon, Schafer Corporation, SI International, University of California

Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle
The Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle is part of the FALCON weapons system.  It is intended to be a reusable, autonomous (unmanned) aircraft capable of taking off from a conventional runway and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles away in less than two hours.  It will be able to carry 12,000 pounds, including Common Aero Vehicles/Hypersonic Technology Vehicles, cruise missiles, or bombs.  Development is to be complete by 2025. (More information...)
Contractors: Alliant Techsystems, Andrews Space, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman

Hypersonic Demonstrator Aircraft
Also known as HyFly, this is a hypersonic strike demonstrator vehicle that is intended to help develop the technology hypersonic missiles. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Boeing
Subcontractors: Aerojet, Alliant Techsystems

Hypersonic High-Speed Strike Weapon
HyStrike is inteded to be a single hypersonic strike weapon that will be launchable from air, surface, and subsurface platforms.  It will also be able to hit underground targets 12 meters deep, fly at speeds of Mach 4 (4900 km/hour), and change direction in flight by using a bending body joint. (More information...)
Contractor: Alliant Techsystems

Israeli Short Range Missile Defense program
Israel's Ministry of Defense is developing a new terminal missile defense interceptor for low-cost, short-range ballistic missile threats. Israel and the US have agreed to jointly develop a new Short Range Missile Defense (SRMD) capability that will complement its existing Arrow and Patriot PAC-2 GEM+ systems, one optimized via its design and cost to defend against rockets with ranges of 70 - 200 km. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Raytheon, Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd.

Kinetic Energy Interceptor

Kinetic Energy Interceptors are missiles which are launched into space to take out enemy missiles by smashing into them, rather than by exploding near them.  Kinetic Energy Interceptors also have potential applications as anti-satellite weapons, because the same technology is necessary to destroy incoming missiles and satellites. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Northrop Grumman, Raytheon
Subcontractors: Aerojet, Alliant Techsystems, Analytical Graphics, Inc., Ball Aerospace, Booz Allen Hamilton, Davidson Technologies, Inc., Miltec Corporation, Orbital Sciences Corporation, Science Applications International Corporation, Schafer Corporation

Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile Intercept program
The LEAP program is aimed at developing and integrating miniature kinetic energy (hit-to-kill)
interceptors to be used in the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system. The LEAP kill vehicles are intended to intercept enemy missiles within a range of 1,000 to 2,000 km away, by honing in on the missile and destroying it by direct impact. The kill vehicles would also be able to reach low-altitude satellites for an anti-satellite attack.
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin
Subcontractors: Computer Sciences Corporation, General Dynamics, Orbital Sciences Corporation

Medium Extended Air Defense System
The Medium Extended Air Defense System is intended to replace the US’ aging anti-aircraft system; it is to provide coverage against both aircraft and cruise missiles. It is a cooperative effort between the US, Germany, and Italy. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Siemens
Subcontractor: Davidson Technologies, Inc.

Miniature Kill Vehicle
The Army wants multiple small kill vehicles to be housed within a carrier vehicle and used against ballistic missiles in the midcourse stage of flight. They are intended to weigh 2-10 kilograms each, and are to be launched 12 to a rocket.  Once launched, the rocket’s vehicle carrier would use its own sensors to distinguish warheads from decoys and to program the kill vehicles to attack multiple targets. (More information...)
Originally: Schafer Corporation
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin
Subcontractor: Davidson Technologies, Inc.

Mobile Tactical High Energy Lasers
Mobile Tactical High Energy Lasers are intended to help develop and test the first mobile Directed Energy weapon system capable of detecting, tracking, engaging, and defeating rockets, cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Funding was cut for this program in 2004. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman

Multiple Kill Vehicle Payload System
This system will be attached to an interceptor so that it can destroy the enemy’s reentry vehicle and any other countermeasures it has on board. The kill vehicles will separate from the interceptor to take out multiple targets. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin
Subcontractor: Aerojet

Nanosatellites/Miniature Spacecraft
Microsatellites reduce manufacturing and launch costs, which means greater access to space for the military.
Contractors: AeroAstro, Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd., MicroSat Systems, Inc., SpaceDev, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited

Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE)
NFIRE is composed of a satellite with an onboard sensor and laser communication terminal, as well as two ground-based control centres.  It will also carry releasable kill vehicles. Its sensor is designed to distinguish between a missile and its plume. Controversy has arisen over its kill vehicles. (More information...)
Contractors: General Dynamics

Operationally Responsive Spacelift
The Air Force began the Operationally Responsive Spacelift initiative in 2003. The goal of the program is to develop reusable rockets that could be launched at a low cost on short notice. Based on studies, the Air Force decided that the best way to achieve this capability is by developing a family of modular, hybrid launch vehicles. A hybrid vehicle consists of a reusable first stage with an expendable upper stage stack. The name given to this next-generation family of hybrid vehicles is Affordable REsponsive Spacelift (ARES). The system could be in place by 2014. (More information...)
Contractors: Aerospace Corporation, Andrews Space

Orbital Boost Vehicle
The Orbital Boost Vehicle is used in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense segment of the US Ballistic Missile Defense program. It is designed to intercept and destroy long-range enemy missiles while they are in flight (as opposed to Kinetic Energy Interceptors, which are intended to intercept and destroy enemy missiles just after they are launched). (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Orbital Sciences Corporation

Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) Missile
The PAC-3 is the anti-ballistic missile of choice for the US Ballistic Missile Defense system. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin
Subcontractors: Boeing, Davidson Technologies, Inc., Mitsubishi, Orbital Sciences Corporation, Raytheon

Payload Launch Vehicle
The Payload Launch Vehicle was part of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. It was the booster that flew Raytheon Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle. During its last test in December 2002, the kill vehicle failed to separate from the launch vehicle. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Boeing
Subontractor: Lockheed Martin

Sea-based Midcourse Defense system
Formerly the Navy Theater Wide system, the Sea-based Midcourse Defense system is composed of ship-based missile defense systems intended to intercept incoming missiles above the atmosphere. It incorporates the Standard Missile-3, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, and the Lightweight Exoatmospheric Projectile Intercept program. It also has anti-satellite capabilities. (More information...)
Contractors: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon

Sea-Based X-Band Radar
The Sea-Based X-Band Radar is a sensor that track targets for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Raytheon

Small Launch Vehicle
The Small Launch Vehicle is part of the FALCON weapons system. The goal of the program is to develop an affordable space lift capability that can quickly launch a small satellites and Common Aero Vehicles/Hypersonic Technology Vehicles into orbit. (More information...)
Contractors: Andrews Space, Lockheed Martin, Microcosm, Inc., Orbital Sciences Corporation, Schafer Corporation, SpaceX

Space-Based Infrared System
The system consists of a constellation of satellites capable of tracking ballistic missiles throughout their course. It is designed to operate worldwide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman
Subcontractors: Aerospace Corporation, Davidson Technologies, Inc., Honeywell, Raytheon

Space Based Laser Integrated Flight Experiment
The Space Based Laser Integrated Flight Experiment was intended to be a single satellite carrying a laser payload, a beam director, and related beam control systems. The program was cancelled in 2002. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman

Space Based Surveillance System
The Space Based Surveillance System detects and tracks space objects such as satellites and debris. The Department of Defense intends to use its data to support military operations. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman
Subcontractors: Aerospace Corporation, Boeing, Ball Aerospace

Space Tracking and Surveillance System
This system will be able to detect and track ballistic missiles as well as potential ground-based kinetic energy anti-satellite weapons. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman
Subcontractors: Aerospace Corporation, Analytical Graphics, Inc., General Dynamics, Raytheon

Standard Missile-3
The Standard Missile-3 is a ballistic missile that destroys incoming ballistic missiles outside the earth’s atomosphere. It is an integral component of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Boeing, Raytheon
Subcontractor: Aerojet, Alliant Techsystems, Honeywell, L-3 Communications, Mitsubishi

Submarine-Launched Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile System
This system is designed to deliver a conventional missile from a submarine to targets more than 1100 miles away in 10-15 minutes. (More information...)
Prime Contractors: Alliant Techsystems, Lockheed Martin

Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
THAAD is a ground-based system that provides rapidly deployable missile defense components – missiles, launchers, radars, fire control – that can take out incoming missiles at ranges beyond the immediate defended area. This allows the system to destroy enemy targets at various stages of their flight. THAAD is also integrated with the Aegis system, and uses PAC-3 missiles. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Lockheed Martin
Subcontractors: Aerojet, Analytical Graphics, Inc., Boeing, Davidson Technologies, Inc., Orbital Sciences Corporation, Raytheon

Track Illuminator Laser
The Track Illuminator Laser is designed to record information about incoming ballistic missiles right when they are launched, by projecting rapid, powerful pulses of light towards the missile.  The light is reflected back to a camera, data from which is used to obtain information about the threat’s speed and elevation. It will be used in the Airborne Laser program. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman
Subcontractors: Raytheon, Schafer Corporation

Upgraded Early Warning Radar
Upgraded Early Warning Radar consists of updated versions of early warning radar systems used by the US.  The upgrades allow the radar to search for different types of missiles, distinguish hostile objects such as warheads from other objects, and provide this data to other NMD elements using improved communications systems. (More information...)
Prime Contractor: Raytheon

Vertical Launching System
The Vertical Launching System is a type of missile-firing system used aboard submarines and ships.
Contractors: BAE, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi, Raytheon