Patriots for Eagles?
Flight International reports that Lockheed is proposing a $137 million program to adapt its Patriot PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles for use on the USAF’s F-15C Eagle air superiority fighters. The missiles would reportedly be used to help the fighters kill ballistic missiles during the boost phase or mid-course phase, instead of hoping for a Patriot’s usual final phase intercept. Patriot PAC-3 missiles also have significantly longer range than the AIM-120 AMRAAM, creating the potential for wider coverage against cruise missiles and other aerial threats. In order to use an AIM-104 Patriot air-launched hit-to-kill (ALHTK) effectively, however, the F-15s would need to add IRST(Infra-Red Search & Track) capability to track enemy missiles outside the atmosphere.
With Boeing’s Airborne Laser in limbo and Ground-based Midcourse Defense missiles headed for a freeze, Lockheed Martin hopes that the US Missile Defense Agency may look to cheaper air-launched solutions, in order to extend ABM coverage while enhancing other military capabilities.
There is some precedent for this kind of conversion. Iran is widely believed to have adapted some of its MIM-32 Hawk missiles for use on F-14 Tomcats, after supplies of more conventional American air-to-air missiles were cut off (see also claimed video). Hawk was the Patriot’s predecessor.
There’s also precedent for the concept. Raytheon’s NCADE marries the body of an AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range air-air missile with an enlarged version of the AIM-9X Sidewinder’s infrared seeker, in order to hit ballistic missiles in their boost phase. NCADE is currently in development and testing, and offers a far wider range of potential uses, in exchange for less range than a Patriot-based system. NCADE is a fire-and-forget weapon that can receive “fly-to” commands. This allows them to be used by a wider range of platforms, from fighters who can combine it with IRST sensors for long-range no-warning shots, to self-defense for medium and large surveillance aircraft, to employment from UAVs or even aerostats as a cruise missile defense option.
Sept 17/09: Flight International reports that a preliminary joint study with the US Missile Defense Agency delivered a positive assessment of air-launched interceptors for ballistic missiles. At present, 2 designs are considered to be contenders.
Raytheon reportedly gave figures for NCADE development of $450 million for development, followed by $1 million to purchase each missile. Lockheed Martin’s's PAC-3 Patriot-based air-launched hit-to-kill (ALHTK) concept, meanwhile, was reportedly projected to cost a minimum of $130 million.