AMSTE Reaches New Milestone with Stand-off Weapons (Jan 2003)

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2003

In October, the Air Force Research Laboratories Affordable Moving Surface Target Engagement (AMSTE) Program reached another milestone when it successfully demonstrated engaging moving surface targets with seeker-less weapons.

Under AMSTE, data from multiple airborne ground moving target indicator (GMTI) radar sensors are combined to provide weapons with real-time target position updates while in-flight. It is hoped that AMSTE will provide an enhanced but low cost ability to engage moving surface threats from standoff ranges, in all weather, using slightly modified precision-guided munitions. Such a system has particular significance in the theater of emerging 21st century shoot-and-scoot battlefield in any number of third world areas, land or sea.

Conducted at the Naval Air Warfare Center (Weapons Division) at Naval Station China Lake, CA, the recent test conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Northrop Grumman used a modified Raytheon Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW) and two Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) to hit targets on the range.

A month before, two JDAMs, employing UHF anti-jam data links, simultaneously targeted the second and third vehicles within a five-vehicle convoy on the Navy’s desert test range, with both weapons landing within their effective circular error of probability (CEP). The JDAMs tested were slightly modified inert Mk-84 bombs with Raytheon UHF anti-jam data links added. Launched at 20,000 feet from an F-14D, the bombs took under a minute to travel six miles to the target for successful hits. Later the same day, a JSOW, launched from an F/A-18D flying at 30,000 feet and approximately 35 miles from the target and using a link-16 Weapon Data Terminal, traveled for approximately five minutes before scoring a direct hit on a remotely-controlled, maneuvering M-60 tank. Both tests were controlled by an E-8C Joint STARS aircraft, providing real-time target location and maneuvering velocity data gathered from bi-laterated GMTI radar. Northrop Grumman's BAC 1-11 test bed aircraft was also involved, carrying a fourth generation AESA F-35 prototype Global Hawk MP-RTIP radar to provide additional targeting data. Both radars are produced by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems (Baltimore, MD).

All engagements were successfully completed while the launching aircraft remained well outside the range of most surface-based air defenses – a key of the AMSTE Program.

After these tests, Northrop Grumman noted that this was the first time any Link-16 equipped weapon has killed a moving target from standoff ranges – a significant development for both the USAF and US Navy.

According to James L. Stratford, Communications Manager for Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems (Melbourne, FL), since these events, “we are continuing to conduct more complex tracking scenarios designed to test the system's ability to maintain a track even if temporarily lost due to terrain.” Stratford said that Northrop Grumman has just received a new contract that takes them into next year with another set of weapon drops against more complex scenarios to be followed by a beginning transition to the services. The contract awards Northrop Grumman (Melbourne, FL) a $14,107,859 cost-plus fixed-fee contract modification to provide for continuation of the development of long-term track maintenance capabilities, to develop and demonstrate real-time battle management and command, control, and communications (BM/C3), and to complete the development of the Affordable Surface Target Engagement (AMSTE) II System architecture in order to perform an end-to-end demonstration of an AMSTE precision engagement system. At this time, $1,261,101 of the funds has been obligated.

AMSTE is in the second of a three-year program. Additional AMSTE tests are scheduled for later this year to determine the capability of new tools to support long-term tracking of high value targets.

During most recent AMSTE testing this remotely-controlled M-60 tank was bulls-eyed while maneuvering