Affordable Moving Surface Target Engagement (AMSTE) System Undergoes "Final Exam"

The "final exam" for the three-year test of the Affordable Moving Surface Target Engagement (AMSTE) system, designed to provide a faster and less expensive way to deliver weapons from the air onto fast, evasive surface targets, was recently concluded. In the October test, an F-16 working with two Ground Moving Target Indicator radar sources delivered a live Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon to the engine compartment of a remotely controlled M-60 tank that was one of 17 vehicles moving through the test fire area. While the tank was totaled, no other vehicles were seriously damaged.

AMSTE is jointly sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL). Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector is the AMSTE prime contractor.

The test team used an APY-7 radar system aboard a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) test-bed aircraft flying approximately 60 miles from the target and a prototype Joint Strike Fighter active electronically scanned array radar carried aboard a BAC 1-11 test bed while flying within 21 miles of from the target. Targeting information was given to the F-16 and it dropped the GPS-guided JDAM approximately 6 ½ miles from the target while flying at 20,000 feet.

Stu Miller, Director, AMSTE Business Development, said the latest test was really a demo and “a sort of a graduation exercise” in which the system was tested at an increased level of complexity. Performed at Eglin AFB, FL, the goal was to test the concept in a complex, dense traffic environment while using a live weapon for a pinpoint strike on a target. During the test the range simultaneously ran 17 ground targets, 16 of which were confusers such as trucks and cars. Within this traffic jam was the target, its position initially unknown to the team, which subsequently had to be located, tracked, and ultimately engaged while within a column of other vehicles. This test stressed a type of long-term track maintenance called “feature aided tracking,” which, Miller explained, is “the high science behind what makes AMSTE work.”

Bill McCall, Northrop Grumman's AMSTE program manager, noted that the test demonstrated the workability of network-enabled sensor platforms sharing data in real time to significantly decrease "sensor-to-shooter" time while increasing the accuracy and effectiveness of precision strike missions.

Another potential application for AMSTE is in anti-surface warfare at sea, especially in littoral areas where navigation is restricted and sudden attack by fast, small boat affords very little defensive lead-time. Sort of urban warfare with water.

Northrop Grumman has spent about $ 100 M on AMSTE in the past five years. This included work done on developing radar, three special sensors, and three different weapons, involving 12 different live weapons drops in over 37 sorties flown.

While it is yet too early to estimate what dollar value the system may have when fielded, Northrop Grumman is shooting to be the network integration provider. “What we’re talking about is net-centric warfare,” emphasized Miller. “It’s taking a variety of weapons, sensors, and networks and getting data into the weapons and delivery platforms, affording new capabilities including immediate BDA and fratricide avoidance.” The latter is increasingly important in a world where military mistakes of any kind are not tolerated by either the public of the politicians.

To date, military planners and tacticians have often focused on the cost of a weapon used. Such a mindset makes the JDAM look like a great buy, noted Miller. AMSTE is working on emphasizing targeting ability – the ability to give weapons delivery coordinates that are dead accurate and necessary to get a kill using such new tools as GMTI and SAR, in all weather and in real time, while dynamically tasked. The US now uses very expensive satellite and long-haul communication systems to do this. Northrop Grumman claims that AMSTE can generate 150 coordinates in 30 seconds, in all weather, with dynamic tasking, and at a very low cost. The AMSTE team believes that this is a new way of fighting and of planning for how you are going to fight.

According to Miller, Northrop Grumman came away from the test with a completed list of criteria proving the technology had matured enough to be migrated to other platforms and weapons. In the short term, OSD has picked-up AMSTE in an area called “horizontal fusion,” a program headed-up by the joint program office, the goal of which is to take the high quality track data AMSTE provides, add metatags, and make the information available in a webbed environment, shared in real time with anyone who needs it. “This gives a solution that is not hardware specific,” explained Miller, “but would be available to anyone with an IP address and secure communications.” This is being pursued for 2004, with a live fire demo planned for 2005.

An M-60 tank, hit dead on in the latest live fire AMSTE test, gives mute testimony.